Jul 22, 2014 — Did you know the group most commonly injured in campfire accidents are young adult males? Annette Matherly, R.N., from the University of Utah Burn Center, presents some alarming statistics concerning the frequency of injury from this often-overlooked danger. She gives some simple safety tips on campfire protocol and a refresher course on first aid for burns.


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Interviewer: It seems like we all should know that campfires can be really, really dangerous and if you get burned in one it could be a lifetime thing, yet we're still having the conversation about campfire safety. We're with Annette Matherly. She's the outreach education and burn disaster coordinator at the U of U Burn Center. Why is this a conversation we continue to have? I would think most people know that campfires are hazardous.

Annette Matherly: They do, but they just seem so beautiful and so generic. We sit around them and we feel lovely and we roast marshmallows. We forget that birthday cake theory, and that is as a youngster we were given a cake with a candle on it, and when we blew that candle out we discovered that we could control fire. Then, we were rewarded with gifts and cake, so we're not afraid of that campfire. We can do anything we want around it. That's why we all get injured, and why we don't think anything about it, and why we're still talking about it.

Interviewer: Yeah, because it's an everyday thing nowadays, sitting around the campfire having a couple of cold beverages whether that's alcoholic or not, that's just what you do.

Annette Matherly: Absolutely.

Interviewer: You stick your marshmallows and your hand in there.

Annette Matherly: Usually you wave your marshmallow around on your stick, then it flies through the air still flaming.

Interviewer: Oh, I never even thought of that. That could really burn you, couldn't it?

Annette Matherly: Absolutely, just like a sparkler can.

Interviewer: So, it's not really anybody's fault or anybody's lack of knowing that it's dangerous. It's just we kind of forget.

Annette Matherly: Absolutely.

Interviewer: Let's talk about that a little bit. How dangerous is it really, though? I mean, seriously.

Annette Matherly: We probably even just over this last 4th of July saw about ten patients come through our inpatient department. That doesn't count the patients that came through our outpatient department. Those patients all sustained a significant injury, the inpatients enough to put them in the hospital for several days, sometimes for weeks. The outpatients needed outpatient care.
We have to remember that a severe burn is one of the most painful things that can occur to your body both physically and psychologically. They're incredibly painful, and many people have post-traumatic stress afterward. It's not just the physical injury itself.

Interviewer: Much worse than breaking a bone, much worse than tweaking your back.

Annette Matherly: Absolutely. You can heal a bone, and you can't see the results of it, hopefully, if you find a good physician.

Interviewer: Sure.

Annette Matherly: When you sustain a burn injury it's for life. You can see that. Of course, dependent upon where it is that may be more traumatic than others, especially to the face. Most of the patients that we see sustain injuries to their outstretched hands. That's really important, because you need your hands for the rest of your life to be able to be functional.

Interviewer: Out of these ten patients you saw, what's the most common thing? I think you touched on it, the hands.

Annette Matherly: Absolutely.

Interviewer: It sounds like what happens is somebody tripped or whatever and went to catch themselves, and hands in the fire.

Annette Matherly: Absolutely. This is usually when the family are setting up camp. They go into a fresh campground and they set up shop. They put their tents up and their children are wandering around. Of course, they're fascinated by that birthday candle still, and they wander over to the fire pit.
The most important thing to remember is there doesn't have to be flames. The embers can stay hot for 12 to 15 hours afterwards. Kids that start to play in those embers and then fall into that fire pit can still sustain significant injuries from those still hot embers from the people that were in the campsite before. That's important to remember. It's not just the flames. It's most always the outstretched hands.

Interviewer: Okay, more than 12 hours later, still serious burns from that. You said the kids will do that. Is it kids that primarily get burned from campfires, or is it adults?

Annette Matherly: For the most part this year it has been children, although pulling some old statistics from a couple of years ago our average age has been about 23 years old. Of course, that's usually with more than a little benign beverage around a campfire. To remind adults also, it's not just the kids that can fall in. When you consume alcoholic beverages your ability to keep yourself safe and to keep yourself in an upright position around a campfire kind of wavers a little bit.

Interviewer: Yeah.

Annette Matherly: Then, it's easy to fall and misjudge. There's also the game called let's jump over the campfire that seems to be popular with people.

Interviewer: Is that really a game?

Annette Matherly: Usually it's males. I've never seen a female come into the unit with that. They try and jump over the campfire. Oftentimes, they're not thinking very clearly and they can fall into those flames. Those are the adults oftentimes that we'll see come through the unit.

Interviewer: I think that's very telling, the 23 year old is your average age, because not only the propensity may be to have some alcoholic beverages but also horseplay, horsing around.

Annette Matherly: Absolutely.

Interviewer: You know, 30 and 40 year olds, we're going to sit and stare at the fire, we're not jumping and dancing around it.

Annette Matherly: Absolutely.

Interviewer: Anything else to keep in mind when it comes to campfire safety? I think we've had some fun with this conversation, but it is a real serious deal, and burns are forever.

Annette Matherly: Absolutely. I guess what I would say to the parents, or to the grandparents or to anyone sitting around a campfire, especially when they're observing children, is to put tight clothing on the children. Tie their hair back. Remember to use a designated campfire site to set up in an appropriate place and to have some water on hand so that if something awful happens the fire can be put out right away.

Remember to go back to the basics. Teach the children that will be there to stop, drop, and roll; to not run if they catch on fire; and then to douse that fire as soon as possible. It's a great time to review the things we learned in kindergarten that we forget really easily.
The other thing that I would say would be extremely important would be what we call the circle of safety. That's to put a three foot perimeter around that campfire. Children need to stay out of that three foot radius. That keeps everyone safe or safer. Adults, preferably, should stay out of it also, but if you tell the children to not run within that perimeter even if the campfire is out that will help to keep them safe also.

Interviewer: Physically put down some string or something around there to indicate that, or spray paint.

Annette Matherly: Absolutely. Or, draw a circle around it. Or spray paint or chalk is a great idea. Any of those things would be perfect to do.

Interviewer: Got you. Probably even have the discussion about how serious it is because, like you said, we've been giving children mixed messages since year one when you bring out the birthday cake, and you blow it out, and everybody cheers, and it's exciting.

Annette Matherly: Absolutely. No rewards for playing with this fire. The other thing that I would say, too, is if there is an injury to remember the fix. The fix would be to cool it with cool water. Clean it to clean out any debris. Campfires are usually pretty dirty. Then, cover it with maybe a Band-Aid or a bandage or some kind of cloth.
Then, if that injury warrants it call for help. At the burn center we're happy to take calls from the community 24 hours a day in regards to whether somebody has sustained an injury that may need to come into our outpatient or to our inpatient area.

Interviewer: And it can happen to you.

Annette Matherly: Absolutely. It can happen to you.

Man: We're your daily dose of science, conversation, medicine. This is The Scope, University of Utah Health Sciences Radio.

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