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January 06, 2014

Augusta, GA - With temperatures dipping into the teens, the chances of getting burned start to climb.

“Every year, we see patients who were just trying to stay warm, but ended up getting burned,” said Dr. Fred Mullins, president of Joseph M. Still Burn Centers, Inc., and medical director of the Joseph M. Still Burn Center at Doctors Hospital in Augusta, Ga. “With a little extra precaution and preparation, most people could have a safer winter.”

At the root of many of the cold weather-related burns and fires is heating equipment. The easiest precaution is creating a three-foot safety zone around the heating unit that is free of any flammable materials. The “safe zone” will also keep children at a safe distance. Often, the surfaces are hot and can cause a serious, painful burn.

“Always remember: Just because something is not touching a heater does not mean that item can’t catch fire,” said Dr. Mullins.

Other tips for avoiding heating hazards include:

  • Have the heating unit serviced by a professional before its first use.
  • Check to make sure all equipment, like the fireplace damper, is working properly.
  • Make sure the chimney is clean and clear of obstructions.
  • Keep space heaters away from combustible items, including clothes, furniture and curtains.
  • Buy only recommended fuel from reputable sources.
  • Use a screen to control sparks from the fireplace.
  • Don’t use an accelerant to start a fire in a fireplace or wood-burning stove.
  • Do not overload the fireplace or wood-burning stove.         
  • Make sure ashes and other debris from fireplaces and wood-burning stoves are safely disposed of far from buildings.
  • Always make sure fire and carbon monoxide detectors are working.
  • Do not use a space heater to help dry clothes or other items.
  • Never, ever use gasoline to start a fire in a fireplace.
  • Never leave a fire, space heater or other heating source unattended.
  • Make sure a fire extinguisher is available.
  • If you have a natural gas fireplace, check all connections and lines before use.
  • On space heaters, make sure electrical cords aren’t damaged.

Getting burned by fire is not the only risk when temperatures drop. Frostbite, which occurs when body parts are exposed to extremely cold temperatures, can cause serious damage – even amputation.

“You can’t be too cautious with frostbite,” said Dr. Mullins. “If you have a question about it, get checked out. Often, the earlier it can be treated, the better the outcome.”

There are some simple steps to avoid frostbite, including:

  • Limit the amount of time you're outdoors when temperatures are dangerously low. In very cold, windy weather, exposed skin can develop frostbite in a matter of minutes.
  • Dress in several layers of loose, warm clothing, including undergarments that wick moisture away.
  • Make sure your ears and hands are completely covered.

Frostbite has some tell-tale signs to look for: the feeling of pins and needles or lack of feeling in an area, or skin that is hard and pale. Once the area has been warmed up, it may appear red and painful. If you think you may have frostbite, there are some definite “do nots” for the affected area:

  • Do NOT thaw out a frostbitten area if it cannot be kept thawed. Refreezing may make tissue damage even worse.
  • Do NOT use direct dry heat (such as a radiator, campfire, heating pad, or hair dryer) to thaw the frostbitten areas. Direct heat can burn the tissues that are already damaged.
  • Do NOT rub or massage the affected area.
  • Do NOT disturb blisters on frostbitten skin.
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