Local News

Sunday, Apr 21 2013 05:00 PM

DOUG GREENER: Never underestimate a burn injury

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    Bakersfield fire chief Doug Greener.

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By DOUG GREENER, Contributing columnist

You would think that after many years of firefighting, I'd be somewhat hardened to the aftermath of burn injuries, but I'm not. I recently spent some time in the Grossman Burn Unit at San Joaquin Community Hospital, visiting with one of our injured firefighters and the burn unit staff. It was a very unpleasant reminder of the seriousness of burn injuries.

Unfortunately, it's not unusual for firefighters to occasionally suffer minor to moderate burns during their careers. Normally though, they don't end up in the burn unit, being scrubbed, debrided and temporarily skin-grafted.

As an engine company firefighter, I received minor first- and second-degree burns several times, when heat either found a small opening in my protective layers, or was so significant that it transferred through. We strive to avoid those injuries, but we're not always successful.

One of our newest firefighters was recently engaged in a multi-company firefight in a residential structure in east Bakersfield, when seriously high radiant heat soaked through his protective gear. Many times, interior firefights are punishing, zero-visibility, belly-crawling battles that don't allow fire crews to rapidly exit when things get unpleasantly hot. While making their way through the burning structure, searching for victims and the seat of the fire, the environment changed, high heat rapidly banked down on the attack team, and he sustained second-degree burns on his neck, wrist and legs.

I hope that's our last burn injury, but it probably isn't. Interior firefighting is always dangerous, particularly in residential settings where rapid, simultaneous search is necessary to save someone during an active structure fire. The BFD philosophy is to get inside, deploy hose-lines between the fire and the victims, rescue those trapped, and protect the escape routes if possible. The most appropriate strategy and tactics.

That's a long segue into my main point this month, which is the avoidance and treatment of burn injuries. Most people won't be subjected to the heat levels that firefighters encounter, but significant thermal, electrical, or chemical burns can occur in even ordinary household settings, and can be every bit as serious.

Never underestimate a burn injury. Our burned firefighter had what appeared to be relatively minor first- and second-degree burns (redness, some blistering, etc.), was transported by a Fire Department unit to the emergency room after the incident, treated and then released. He later spent four days at the burn unit, which no one predicted.

The Grossman Burn Center and San Joaquin Community Hospital expertly treat more than 350 burn-related injuries every year. The really unfortunate statistic is that children account for 40 percent of the burn injuries treated locally, which is higher than the national average. Burn injuries to children are most often due to hot water scalds and occur in 65 percent of those cases. Clearly, you don't have to be a professional firefighter to be at risk of burn injury, so please be aware and be careful.

If you are burned, please follow these basic safety rules:

* remove clothing from around the burned area;

* cool the burned area with copious amounts of water;

* do not cover the wound or apply ointments, butter, or oil;

* seek medical evaluation right away;

* call 9-1-1 if necessary.

In addition to Grossman and SJCH, there are numerous non-profits and groups actively supporting burn prevention and care here in Bakersfield. The Bakersfield Firefighters' Burn Foundation assisted 70 burn victims and their families, donated more than $50,000 to burn-related causes, and hosted numerous events throughout the year to support our youngest burn patients.

Other groups including the Kern Firefighters' Burn Trust and Ronald McDonald House at Memorial Hospital have also helped out in big ways. Special thanks to those charitable groups for making the burn problem here less severe.

On behalf of the men and women of the Bakersfield Fire Department, our response partners, and all of the dedicated medical personnel, volunteers and non-profits that support burn prevention and treatment, I ask that you please take all burn injuries seriously. For more burn prevention and care information, visit the Bakersfield Firefighters' Burn Foundation website at www.bakersfieldfbf.org.

-- Doug Greener is chief of the Bakersfield Fire Department. These are his opinions, not necessarily those of The Californian.

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