By Karen Sheehan, MD
Since Santa has left the building (at least for another year), you may have thought you were done with thinking about your fireplace for a while. As it turns out, you need to take care of one more thing if you have a glass-fronted gas fireplace. If you have a newer home, or have done a recent remodel, you know that gas fireplaces are becoming popular because they are easy to use (just push a button), easy to maintain (ashes don’t need to be cleaned out) and they produce less particulate emissions than traditional wood-burning fireplaces.
However, gas fireplaces can pose a significant risk to young children — the panel of glass that separates the flame from the room can reach temperatures over 1300 degrees Fahrenheit.
According to new research, in the last five year, over 400 children have been treated in burn centers (special designated hospitals that care for the most severely burned) after touching glass-fronted gas fireplaces. Furthermore, the authors estimate that there were 17,000 medical visits, 360 emergency department visits and 33 hospital admissions per year. Over 95% of the burns involved the hands, usually the palm.
To prevent these injuries, new standards were enacted on January 1 that require all new gas-burning fireplaces to be sold with a screen safety barrier, as well as additional information on how to prevent burns.
These new standards should help prevent burns in children from gas fireplaces that are installed after January 1, but what can you do if you already own a glass-fronted gas fireplace?
- Consider not using the gas fireplace when young children are around. Remember that the glass can remain hot until at least 30 minutes after the fireplace is turned off.
- Install a protective, heat-resistant fireplace safety screen, which is sturdy enough that a young child can’t push it over.
- If your child is burned, cool the area with water; apply a moist, clean bandage or towel; avoid popping the blisters if they are present; don’t put butter on the burn (a surprisingly common home remedy), and seek medical care.
Dr. Karen Sheehan is a general pediatrician and a pediatric emergency medicine specialist at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago. After taking care of kids who fell from windows, or were shot, or were hit by cars, it occurred to her that it would be better to prevent such injuries in the first place. She now focuses on prevention and maximizing a child’s health and well-being.