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    Burn Alert

    Burn Alert

    A couple of years ago, one of my dear friends from the bungalow colony we go to in the summer brought their daughter to the Burn Unit at Staten Island University Hospital. This is a newly designed department, which recently added brand-new, state-of-the-art equipment to treat all kinds of burns. When my wife and I visited, we were shocked to see the pain and anguish suffered by patients, many of them children. And then, we witnessed too, the parents and extended families sharing the suffering and, in some cases, coping with feelings of guilt as well.

    The number of fire incidents occur where there are children in the home far outweighs the rest. This raises the terrible specter of tragedy in young families when there is a baby afoot, and even more if there ís more than one child. These numbers are extremely distressing and alarming, and the stakes are too high to be lax. They beg us to take action.

    The Torah teaches, Vnishmartem mod es nafshoseichem And you will greatly protect your souls. These few words state the fundamental positive precept to take good care of our health. Thus, even before New York State law mandated the use of seat belts, the Torah commanded us to do so since they help protect our lives. Therefore, when spending time learning proper burn prevention, one is actually occupying him or herself in a cornerstone mitzvah of the Torah.

    Dr. Morton Kleiner, top-notch nephrologist and very active member of Staten Island University Hospital, related to me that Dr. Finklestein, who heads the Burn Unit, advises that most burn accidents are not from actual fire itself, but rather hot liquids. This is something that we must become aware of.


    Rule Number One: Hot liquids can be just as dangerous as open fire! Keep a hands-off policy. Donít hold scalding liquids and babies at the same time. We all know that medicine must have childproof caps and poisonous cleaning solutions must be out of reach, and that outlets must be plugged up when children are around. But to many us, a cup of hot coffee or a plate of soup is viewed as completely innocuous. This can be a dangerous mistake. Take, for example, the father who is holding a cup of hot coffee and his baby lurches in his hand, getting scalding coffee directly in the face.

    Rule Number Two: Beware hot foods at the edge of the table! When a hot plate of soup or other food is perched at the table’s edge, all it takes is one tug of the tablecloth by an exuberant child and the result can be 2nd degree burns on the chest.

    Rule Number Three: Stoves must remain under our surveillance. Vigilance is the key; forewarned is forearmed. Let’s make sure that when pots are on the fire, the pot-handles are turned inward. Also, ensure that no chairs are within proximity to the burners. This keeps everything out of reach of adventurous children.

    Rule Number Four: Mount an extinguisher in the home – especially in the kitchen! These days, kitchen renovations and cabinet re-facing projects are very prevalent. Families spend thousands of dollars beautifying their kitchens. It behooves them, and all of us, to spend an additional hundred dollars to purchase a good fire extinguisher in case of kitchen fires. Remember, learn how to use it and be prepared to do so as an instinctual reaction.

    Rule Number Five: Space heaters can be deadly! In many of our homes, especially during the Arctic chills, there is an imbalance of heat. While some areas are warm, other portions of the home remain windy and chilly. To solve this, many people use space heaters. These contraptions need extreme caution when used, as curious children have gotten parts of their bodies stuck in them. Yet others have tossed blankets upon them in their sleep, igniting the house into flames. So too, because of the grave danger by electrocution, one must exercise care and never bring space heaters near the bath, or near water of any kind.

    Rule Number Six: Speaking about bathrooms, do not leave a small child unattended there! In addition to the inherent dangers of water, putting them into the path of scalding water burns many children. First, check the temperature yourself.

    Rule Number Seven: Another issue of concern is unattended candles. You cannot conk out, for any reason and no matter how tired, with a lit candle in the house. Beware! This is asking for serious trouble. If you want to nap, an older daughter or son must be assigned to candle duty, or simply blow them out!

    Rule Number Eight: Hide the matches and lighters! Keep them away from children!

    Our Rabbis teach us, Eizahu chacham? Halomeid mikol adom Who is wise? He who learns from every man. The popular question is: What can be learned from a wicked person? The most common answer is: You can learn from him what not to do. However, I’d like to offer another possibility. The wise person learns from other people’s experiences. I know that seeing all those burns on people, arriving at the hospital in dire pain, affected me profoundly and alerted me to the wisdom, and indeed the necessity of burn prevention. It is my humble hope that community groups and schools throughout the country will take note of this issue (if they havenít done so already) and initiate campaigns of burn prevention education.

    Finally, we should remember the Gemora in Sanhedrin [92a], Kol bayis shein divrei Torah, nishmain bo blaila eish achloso Any home that is void of Torah in the night is susceptible to consumption by fire. (Fire in this context can be actual fire, or the fire of rage, of jealousy, etc.) Therefore, it definitely helps, besides the smoke detectors and extinguishers, as a worthy insurance, to have a nightly dosage of Torah study in our homes.

    Rabbi Moshe Meir Weiss

    “Most burn accidents are not from actual fire itself, but rather hot liquids.”