Burns and fire safety for kids

Fire safety is everyone's responsibility. It is important that all members of the family take steps to reduce the risk of fires in the home and know how to respond in the event of a fire.

Fires in the home can start unexpectedly and may be more common than you think. On average, there are around 4,500 house fires in NSW each year.

The most common causes of home fires are:

  • leaving cooking unattended
  • electrical appliances
  • the use of heaters
  • candles and cigarettes.

Prevent fires in the home

Smoke alarms

Did you know that if you don't have a working smoke alarm, you are twice as likely to die from a home fire? Don't take any chances with your safety - make sure you have a functioning smoke alarm in your home. In NSW, it is also a legal requirement to have smoke alarms installed on every level of your home.

When you are asleep, you won't smell smoke from a fire. Smoke alarms are devices that detect smoke and make a loud noise to alert people in the home when smoke is detected. They look to give residents an early warning to implement actions to save lives.

To increase you and your family's chances of survival in a fire, you should:

  • install smoke alarms on all levels of your home - smoke alarms in bedrooms, living spaces, hallways, stairways and garages provide a higher level of protection
  • check and test smoke alarm batteries once a month by pressing and holding the test button for at least five seconds until you hear the beeps
  • if your smoke alarm doesn't work - replace it immediately
  • if your smoke alarm uses a lithium battery, or it is more than ten years old - replace it immediately
  • if your smoke alarm has a battery, replace it every year
  • vacuum your smoke alarm every six months to remove any dust and bugs
  • discuss with your child the sounds of a smoke alarm and what to do in the event of a fire within the home.

Keep fire starters out of reach from children

Lighters and matches

Store matches and lighters in locked cabinets or where children cannot reach or see them, similar to poisons and medications. Where possible, use child-proof lighters. Similarly, ensure lighters and matches are at least one metre away from fireplaces. 

Cigarettes

If you are smoking, never smoke in bed and ensure you completely extinguish cigarettes before disposal.

Second-hand smoke from cigarettes and vaping is dangerous for children. Quitting smoking is the best way to protect your children. See Vaping and smoking for more information.

Power points, power boards and charging devices

Power points

You should only put one plug into each power socket at the wall.

Power boards

  • Never overload power boards - when there are too many devices plugged into them, they can catch fire
  • Use power boards that have safety switches or circuit breakers
  • Never use a double adaptor in a power board
  • Place power boards on their sides to prevent dust build-up in unused points
  • Regularly check electrical leads and never use faulty leads or appliances
  • Ensure adequate ventilation to power boards.

Charging electronic devices

Always charge devices on a hard surface, such as a desk or a table. Charging electronic devices on soft surfaces such as beds or pillows can cause a fire due to heat generated by the battery.

Heating appliances

Always check heating appliances are not damaged before using them.

Heaters

If using heating appliances during winter months, such as a gas heater, make sure they are a safe distance, at least one metre, from flammable material such as rugs or curtains. Ensure they are being directly plugged into a wall socket. Make sure they are not unattended for long periods of time and are switched off when you go to bed or when you leave the house. 

Prevent fires in the home - "Keep everything one metre away from the heater"

Electric blankets

Always check your electric blanket for any damage or abnormalities, including wires and cords, before using it. If safe to use, leave it on for 5 minutes and rub your hand over the blanket to check for hot spots. If there is any fault, damage or hot spots, throw it away and replace it. Turn off electric blankets when getting into bed and when you're not home. They are not designed to be used while sleeping. Ensure that you roll your electric blanket when packing it away. Don't fold your electric blanket, as this can cause damage.

Outside heating and cooking appliances need to stay outside

Anything designed to be used outdoors should stay outdoors. Never use any outside heating appliances such as outdoor heaters, barbeques or LPG cylinders. These sorts of equipment can lead to a build-up of carbon monoxide, which is a poisonous gas. You cannot see, taste or smell carbon monoxide, but it can make you sick and be fatal if exposed to high levels.

Wheat bags

Never use wheat bags in bed, as they can spontaneously catch fire. Wheat bags can continue to self-heat under covers and can cause a fire or burns to the person in the bed. It's important to use wheat bags carefully and only for their intended purpose of relieving body aches and pains under adult supervision. If heating a wheat bag for this purpose:

  • follow the manufacturer's instructions, and never heat longer than what is specified
  • if there is any wear, tear or scorch marks, throw it out and replace them with a new one
  • never sleep with a wheat bag or place them under covers
  • allow the wheat bag to properly cool before reheating again if desired
  • when cooling down a wheat bag, ensure it is on a surface that won't catch light, such as a tiled floor or granite bench top.

Fireplace and chimneys

Make sure to have a qualified tradesperson service your fireplace. When using the fireplace, place a fire screen in front of it. And if you're using wood, keep it at least one meter away from the fireplace to prevent accidental fires.

Candles

Adults should always be present when a candle is used. If you're leaving the room, extinguish the candle. Keep candles on hard surfaces and away from anything that can catch alight.

Kitchen safety

Never leave cooking unattended

Kitchen fires are the most common cause of house fires in NSW. Most of these are a result of unattended cooking. 

  • If you need to leave the kitchen, ensure you turn off the stove
  • Ensure that pot handles are turned inwards so that children don't accidentally knock or grab these
  • Ensure you are not distracted - distractions can quickly lead to fires

Microwaves

  • Don't put anything metallic, such as spoons or forks, in the microwave - metal heats up very quickly, which can lead to a fire

Kitchen space

  • Fat and grease build-up in your oven, range hood and grill and can cause a fire. It is important to always keep your oven, range hood and grill clean to prevent this from occurring.
  • When cooking on the stove, ensure that you don't have loose clothing on that could catch alight
  • Keep tea towels and curtains away from the stove
  • Use the back stove points, and turn pot handles inwards to avoid children grabbing or knocking pots.

Fire and Rescue NSW has developed a Winter fire safety checklist for you to ensure you are prepared. They also offer Safety visits to check you have working smoke alarms in good condition and in suitable areas. They can also tailor fire safety advice based on your home. Click the button below to be redirected to Fire and Rescue NSW website.

Teach your child about fire safety

It is crucial to educate and protect children from the dangers of fire so they are well-prepared in case of an emergency.

Fire is not a toy

Children are often unaware that a small flame can quickly grow into a dangerous fire. Teach your child that matches and lighters are tools for adults, not toys. 

Parents and carers should ensure that these tools should be securely stored away and out of reach of children, similar to poisons and medication. 

See Medication safety for more information.

How to identify potential dangers

Teach your children how to identify potential dangers, including smoke alarms and the sight or smell of fire or smoke.

If children haven't seen a fire before, you may like to show them a photo of smoke or fire to help them identify dangers in the future.

Plan and practice your fire escape plan

Sit down and write an escape plan with your children. You can engage children and help them visualise your home's layout by drawing a map of your house. You should:

  • plan at least two exits out of each room where possible
  • choose a meeting location that is safely away from the home
  • consider and plan for any mobility or safety issues for certain points 
  • practice and review the plan regularly
  • ask your child if they have any questions.

Just like most workplaces conduct fire drills every few months, so should you in your family home. It will help create peace of mind and some action-based behaviour for you and your children should there ever be a fire in your home.

See Brigade Kids website on What is a home fire escape plan?.

Use the back of the hand to feel if the door is hot

In the event of a home fire, teach your child to use the back of their hands to feel the door before using an exit. If it is hot, your child should use an alternative exit route like other doors or windows.

If it is safe to exit, teach children to close doors behind them as this stops the fire from spreading.

Stop, drop, cover and roll

It is important for children to be prepared in case of a fire. Teach your child that if any part of them or their clothing is on fire to STOP moving, DROP to the floor, COVER their face with their hands and ROLL on the floor until the fire is out. 

This will also help protect their face and lungs and assist smother the flames.

1. STOP where you are

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2. DROP to the floor

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3. COVER their face with their hands

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4. ROLL on the floor to put the fire out

Get down low and go go go

Make sure your children are confident to get out of the home safely. 

During a fire, the air quality worsens quickly, making it hard to breathe. Smoke rises, so the cleanest air will be closest to the floor. 

To escape safely, teach your child to get down on their hands and knees and crawl to the nearest safe exit. This will help them avoid inhaling smoke and other fumes. It will also make it easier to navigate through the area. Encourage your child to shout 'fire' when crawling to the exit to alert adults and others in the house of the danger. 

See What should I do if my house is on fire? from Brigade Kids.

Get out and stay out

Once your child is safe and out of danger, ensure they go to the meeting point that is outlined in your fire escape plan. In emergencies, they can call Triple Zero (000) for help. 

It's crucial to educate your child to never re-enter the house during a fire, even for pets or toys. Instead, they should inform the arriving firefighters of anyone still inside the house.

Brigade kids contains fire safety material, games and activities for children to explore.

Burns and scalds

Did you know?

Children’s skin burns faster, deeper and at lower temperatures than adults. 

Every year, almost 1000 children in NSW under five present to the hospital with serious burn injuries. More than half of these burns happen in the kitchen, with the items below being the major contributors. 

Children’s burns and scalds can be prevented with the guidance below. As children get older, it is important to educate them about the potential dangers of certain products. This then allows safety to be a family responsibility. 

Hot food and drinks (teas, coffees and soups)

  • Use non-slip placemats and coasters instead of tablecloths so young children can’t pull hot food and drinks onto themselves
  • put hot food or drinks out of reach of children, and don’t hold young children while you have a hot product in your hand
  • avoid tablecloths under hot drinks as these can be pulled down by children
  • do not hold a young child while you have a hot drink
  • always drain the hot water from the noodles before giving them to your child, and have them sit at a table when eating hot noodles.

 

Stoves, ovens and barbeques

  • Always use the back stovetops to cook
  • turn pot handles to the back so young children cannot reach them
  • use a barrier such as a stove guard to prevent young children from pulling hot products down onto themselves
  • stay in the kitchen and supervise children at all times while cooking
  • do not put water on burning oil as this will cause olil to splatter or spread a fire.

Keep looking when cooking.

Kitchen appliances (kettles, toasters and microwaves )

  • Make sure all electrical appliances are pushed to the back of the bench so children cannot reach them
  • wind up excessive cords or use cordless appliances where possible
  • never heat baby bottles in the microwave
  • for older children, make sure microwaves are at a level where children are not reaching above their waist to remove food from the microwave
  • always follow the recommended cooking time on labels as over-heating food and liquids may result in it exploding.

Heaters

  • Always have heaters on the floor and not raised on any chairs or tables
  • install a heat-resistant guard around any heaters or fireplaces.

Irons

  • Try, where possible, not to use irons or have them cooling down while your child is around - small children can grab cords or ironing boards without knowing what is above
  • consider using cordless irons and make sure to pack everything away and out of reach when you are no longer using them.

Hair straighteners and curlers

  • Where possible, make sure children are not around when using hair straighteners or curlers and supervise them whilst the device is heating or cooling
  • store out of reach of children and in a heatproof bag if possible.

Treadmills

  • Never use an indoor treadmill whilst children are in the room - have them supervised by another responsible adult
  • install a guard and unplug the devise after every use.

Hot tap water

  • Hot tap-water burns usually happen in the bathroom where bathing water comes from the tap at an unsafe temperature:
    • water at 65ºC produces a full-thickness burn in less than a second
    • water at 60ºC it takes five seconds
    • water at 50ºC takes five minutes to produce the same depth of burn.
  • controlling the delivery temperature of hot water in areas for personal hygiene, such as bathrooms, to no greater than 50ºC helps to reduce scald burns from occurring - a licensed plumber can install a tempering device on older systems
  • always turn on the cold water tap then add hot water when filling a bath or taking a shower
  • turn the hot water tap off before the cold water tap when the bath is filled or taking a shower.

Burns can happen in seconds, but can last a lifetime

Watch Telphia-Leanne Joseph discuss burns in children, strategies for burn prevention, and the important role of first aid for burns to reduce the severity.

First aid for burns

Burns can be very serious, but prompt first aid will greatly reduce scarring or the need to go to the hospital. If your child has suffered from a burn, follow the below first aid procedure.  

  1. use cool running water for 20 minutes to cool the burn and stop the burning process. 
  2. if possible, remove clothing and jewellery near the burn 
  3. call Triple Zero (000) or get immediate help if it is larger than a 20 cent piece or blisters. 

Never use ice, iced water, cream, gel, toothpaste, butter or anything else on a burn. These products can make a burn worse. Burn creams do not cool the burn and must not be used in place of cool running water. Follow the steps above. 

Ice burns

Ice burns are a result of skin or tissue damage from exposure to extreme cold temperatures. The most common form of ice burn in the home would be from an ice pack being applied directly on the skin for an extended period of time. Preventing ice burns when dealing with a soft tissue injury can be managed through the following steps: 

  • use a layer of clothing or a tea towel between the ice and your child’s skin 
  • do not leave ice packs or frozen items on your child’s injury for longer than 20 minutes 
  • do not use ice packs when going to sleep at night 
  • do not use ice packs or ice for sunburn, burns or scalds.

See Burn injuries fact sheet for more information.

Last updated Tuesday 11th June 2024