How you can prevent fires and burns

By Mark Crowe, Julian Burton Burns Trust

Very young children think and behave in a different way to adults. For example, if there is a fire, they are more likely to hide than to flee. It is the responsibility of the adult to foresee danger.

PBC Expo spoke with Mark Crowe who is a Station Officer and works with Julian Burton Burns Trust, to understand how you can prevent fires and burns in your household. 

Supervise children at all times

Most injuries occur during normal everyday activities around the home. Many accidents happen when children are unsupervised. Parents should be present during any situation wherever and whenever there is potential for burns and fires.

Fire safe behaviour relies on:

  • Awareness of risk and knowing what to do to reduce the risk
  • Adequate supervision of children
  • Positive role modelling by parents / caregivers
  • Parents / caregivers controlling or removing the hazard

Understanding children’s interest in fire

Many children show an interest in fire at an early age. They may ask questions about fire, play ‘pretend cooking’ or role play as firefighters. The most common indicators of fire interest are sitting close to and watching fires, poking at fires or asking to help build or light a fire or candles.

For some children, this interest can lead to fire play (lighting matches or flicking lighters) or fire setting. Such activity places the child and their family at great risk. Many residential fires causing the death of children under five are lit by children.

By being alert to the dangers of burn and fires you can take action to prevent them and prevent injuries.

Safety tips around the home


  • Keep children out of the kitchen when cooking and educate them on the dangers of hot surfaces
  • Separate children from hot foods and liquids
  • Be aware that water can still burn up to 30 minutes after boiling
  • Remove cords that hang down below the bench level as they can be grabbed
  • Use non-slip tablemats instead of tablecloths
  • Never drink hot drinks with a child on your lap


  • General home hot water temperatures should be around 50°C
  • Always use cold water first and last
  • Never leave children alone in the bathroom. If you have to answer the door or telephone take the child with you
  • Keep the door shut when the bathroom is not being used
  • Swirl water to mix hot and cold water – this helps prevent hot spots in the bath
  • Test the bath water with a thermometer first. The ideal temperature is 36°C - 38°C

Understanding burn injuries

Burns are among the most devastating injuries the human body can suffer.

In addition to the pain, the child may have to endure skin grafts, itching, scarring, blistering, deformity and emotional trauma. Physical and emotional suffering can be lifelong. The injury affects the whole family, both emotionally and financially in the short and long term.

Did you know?

  • Most burns occur in the home
  • Children under five do not recognise danger
  • Children under five are vulnerable to burns, especially scalds from hot liquids or steam
  • Burn injuries are preventable

Causes of burns

  • Scalding: hot liquids i.e. tea and coffee spills, hot food, saucepans, hot taps and baths
  • Flame burns: burns from naked flame i.e. open fires, matches, lighters and cigarettes
  • Contact burns: touching hot objects i.e. heaters, stoves, ovens and barbecues.

First aid for burns

1. Stop the burning process
Remove clothing and jewellery unless it is stuck to the skin

2. Cool the burn surface
Flood the burnt area in cool running water for 15 to 20 minutes• Never use oil, butter, ointment or ice

3. Cover
Cover the burn with clean cloth or cling wrap and keep the child warm

4. Elevate
See a doctor if the burn is on the face, hands, feet, genitals, blistered or larger than a 20 cent coin. In an emergency, telephone 000 for an ambulance 

Be prepared for a fire

Preparedness and prevention are the keys to a safe living environment. Every household and child care centre should have a fire escape plan. Make a home fire escape plan with your family members and practise it regularly.

Make sure members of the household know:

  • How to crawl low in smoke
  • Different ways to leave each room and the house
  • How to unlock doors and windows
  • How to call the fire brigade. Even children under five can learn to phone 000
  • Where to meet outside (e.g. the letter box)
  • Practice is the key – this should be done regularly. Make it a fun informal game to avoid scaring or causing unnecessary stress in young children.

But remember... children under five will not necessarily flee from a fire or understand what to do in an emergency. Parents and carers need to be aware of this when developing a home fire escape plan. Children below primary school age may have low retention rates for information so regular reinforcement and practice is important. Be careful not to stimulate interest in fire play and risky behaviour.

Smoke alarms

Only working smoke alarms save lives.

  • Monthly - test your smoke alarm by pressing the test button. Wait for the beep, beep, beep
  • Yearly - change the battery and gently dust around the outside cover
  • Every ten years – all smoke alarms need to be replaced

Be aware that children under the age of five don’t always hear smoke alarms. Consider installing an extra smoke alarm in each child’s bedroom. Consider interconnecting your smoke alarms.

The good news is…. As a parent or caregiver, you can make a young child’s environment safer by being alert to the dangers of burns and fire, and by taking action to prevent them. Children will copy you as their role model, so let them see you taking safety action – such as putting a screen in front of the open fire or not overloading a power point.

Note: The views and advice expressed on this blog post are those of the author and are not representative of the Pregnancy Babies & Children's Expo.

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