LEXINGTON -- Fire can be friend or foe. We often think about fire as it relates to warmth thereby making it our friend during those long winter months. As the cold temperatures arrive, fire used to heat our homes may be a daily occurrence. When we use fire as heat source, we have to mindful of how dangerous it can be and take the appropriate actions to keep everyone safe.

Most burn-related injuries occur to children under age six. Every year more than 18,000 children are treated in emergency departments for burns resulting from contact with a fireplace, chimney or fireplace equipment.

Most burns occur to the hands or fingers. Depending on the severity, these burns can result in lifelong problems, possibly resulting in loss of function and poor cosmetic outcomes.

Young children are more at risk for several reasons. They can be unsteady as they learn to walk, often using surfaces within their reach to pull up. Little ones have slower reflexes and many not be able to move their hands away quickly when they touch something hot. They also have thinner skin on their palms, which can lead to more serious burn injuries.

Parents may not think of fireplaces when thinking of hazards in the home. Many aren't aware of how hot the glass door can become thinking it would be similar to an oven door glass; but fireplace glass can be as hot as 500 degrees. It can take up to an hour to cool down after it is turned off.

Here are a few prevention tips for families with young children most at risk for fireplace related burns.

• Watch children around all fireplaces.

• Install a safety screen or safety gate around the fireplace.

• Keep gas start remote controls out of reach so that gas fireplaces aren't turned on accidentally.

• Think about other places with fireplaces such as restaurants, hotels or cabins. Fire can fascinate young children and attract them, especially if it's something they don't see often.

• Test smoke detectors monthly that they are working. Create and practice a fire escape plan. With gas fireplaces, make sure you have a carbon monoxide detector in the home as well.

• If there's an emergency, call 911.

Sherri Hannan, RN., is the Safe Kids coordinator for Fayette County.

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