Fireplaces provide heat in the cold winter months of Wisconsin and provide a nice ambiance. However, as a pediatrician, almost every year I see or hear of a young child with serious burns from a fireplace. Most parents understand the danger of a wood burning or open fireplace, and I don’t often see injuries from these. What parents overlook are the gas burning fireplaces with a glass front. Children can’t get to the flame but the front becomes quite hot.
Burn injuries from touching the glass are the main cause of injury. The glass can be over 400 degrees F in 6 minutes and cause second and third degree burns. It takes 45 minutes for the glass to cool after the fireplace is turned off.
Young children that are just becoming mobile are especially at risk. They lack good coordination and brace themselves or fall on the glass. They also don’t have the dexterity to quickly pull their body or hands from the heat so can endure deeper and more extensive burns. The flame is also interesting, so it draws their attention and of course they want to touch. Even with older children (2-3 years), injuries can occur because the fireplace is not a cause of injury at other times of the year so it is something that is easily forgotten.
My best recommendation is to leave the fireplace off when your young child is awake. Until my son was 3 1/2 years old, I never turned on the fireplace in our home while he was awake. At 3 1/2, I wouldn’t let him walk within a couple feet of the fireplace and kept reminding him that it was hot and would hurt. When a parent can feel safe having the fireplace on depends on their child’s understanding and willingness to avoid dangers.
Another option is a barrier. This barrier needs to be rigid and not moveable by a young child. It also cannot be made of material that will become hot itself when in close proximity to a fireplace.
If your child ever suffers a burn, immediately run cool water over the wound until it is cool or pain has improved. You can also place the burned area in bowl of cool water. Do not use ice or rub the burn. Do not coat in butter or other substance as this can cause further injury. If needed, it should then be covered with sterile gauze. If pain or redness does not resolve after a couple hours, the burn is extensive, or the burn is oozing, you should immediately call your child’s doctor or take your child to the Emergency Room for treatment. Care also needs to be sought for burns to the hands, face, genitals, or over a moving joint, as management is important to prevent long-term disability from scarring.
Be well and stay warm,