The National Fire Center also found the risk for injury and death to be substantially higher for children under age 5 and for adults age 65 and over. The relative risk to older adults is more than twice that of the general population. Children under the age of 14 accounted for 20 percent of the fire deaths and 14 percent of the fire injuries.
The United States Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) collects annual data which is available on-line through the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System. For 2001, it estimated over 19,000 thermal burn injuries to children under age 9 in the United States.
In 1994, a review of CPSC data was conducted of the National Burn Information Exchange (NBIE) data, which was collected at the University of Michigan from selected national burn centers. Of the 94,735 burns identified in its burn registry data base, 17,507 injuries originated from flammable liquid fires. The review showed that 53,000 of the burn injuries occurred in the home, approximately 8500 of those involved the ignition of flammable liquids, and more than 2500 of those involved the use of a flammable liquid as a cleaning or repair agent.
In 1993, the Gas Appliance Manufacturers Association (GAMA) commissioned a study that reviewed fire data from 1988 through 1990. It reported an annual average in excess of 9,000 reported flammable liquid/vapor fires, with an annual death rate of more than 650 people. Nearly 20 percent of the incidents involved ignition by pilot lights of flammable liquids being used as a solvent or cleaner, and more than 30 percent involved accidental spillage of the flammable liquid. Children accounted for approximately 5 percent of the causalities.
The tragedy of flammable liquid and vapor fires is due to the severity of burn injuries. The NBIE study found that 65 percent of the fires were preceded by an explosion causing greater burn injury and damage. Survivors had burns to 25 percent of their body, and 11 percent had full thickness burns. The GAMA study revealed that burn injury was far more likely to occur in this type of fire, with 33 percent of the fires resulting in such injury. The CPSC had earlier reported that burns from flammable liquid and vapor fires were the most severe, often involving ignited clothing and burns to the face and eyes.
Products likely to result in burn injuries
Flammable liquids are often found around the home. Among the products that have caused fire and burn injury are:
- LP gas
- diesel fuel
- lighter fluid
- glue/contact cement
- paint/paint thinner
- floor coating products
- mineral spirits
- household cleaners
- hairspray/nail polish remover
- methyl ethyl ketone
These liquids themselves do not burn. Vapors coming from the surface of a liquid will burn when mixed with air and a source of ignition is supplied. The flash point of a liquid is the lowest temperature at which a liquid will give off a sufficient concentration of vapor to form an ignitable mixture with air. The lower flammability limit of a fuel air mixture is the lowest volume percentage of fuel in air which is easily ignited by a small flame or will sustain combustion. A product with a high flash point is less hazardous than one with a lower flash point.
The vapors from the majority of solvents and fuels found around the home are significantly heavier than air, and tend to settle toward the floor. As the vapor settles, its odor can be undetectable as it travels along the floor. The vapor can be ignited by an ignition source remote to the location in which the flammable liquid is being used or spilled. Fire will follow the vapor back to its source.
The NBIE, AGA, and CPSC data establish that many flash-back fires occur when a distant pilot light to an appliance becomes the ignition source. The presence of an appliance utilizing room air for combustion insures that there will tend to be a natural flow of air toward the flame. Pilot lights in furnaces or water heaters low to the floor are especially hazardous. Other sources of ignition can cause explosion and fire, including matches, cigarettes, electrical appliances, a light switch, and even static electricity from walking across a carpeted floor.
The flammability of these liquids is often not realized by people using the products. A gallon can of gasoline has an energy equivalence of 45 pounds of dynamite. Less apparent to the average consumer is the hazard presented by chemicals and solvents readily available on the market. For example, retailers sell acetone in one-gallon containers.
Failure to warn of dangers
Many flammable liquids are inadequately labeled. A common theory of liability against the manufacturer of a flammable product is failure to warn of the risks of fires, especially flashback fires. In addition, the instructions may be inadequate regarding how to safely use the product. With litigation having imposed liability, manufacturers have improved the warnings and instructions on their products. However, many products are inadequately labeled especially when people not knowledgeable about the potentially life threatening dangers of vapor ignition and flash-back fires.
About burn injuries
The severity of a burn depends on how hot the skin gets and how long the burn lasts. The location is also important, because skin varies in thickness, water and oil content, the amount of subcutaneous fat, and the number of blood vessels from one location in the body to another. The diagnosis of a burn injury is based on how deep is the injury.
Short-term treatment of burns can include antibiotics, bandages, escharectomies, and pressure garments. Click here to learn more about short-term treatment methods. Skin grafts involve transplantation of skin from one area of the body to another. Some burns can be treated on an outpatient basis, while others require long term hospitalization and treatments lasting more than a year.
Choices about long term burn care depend on the severity of the burn injury as well as whether the patient suffered lung injury from inhaling smoke or chemicals and whether there were pre-existing medical problems.
Financial resources and long-term care
Because burn injuries usually result from accidents or violence, many people have questions about whether or not they can be compensated. There are several potential sources of financial assistance and/or compensation for people with burn injuries.
Long term care presents additional challenges. There are now more than 100 specialized burn treatment centers in the United States. Learn about burn clinics, who they treat, and where you can find one. Also, dermabrasion and dermaplaning can smooth scars.
Contact our experienced St. Louis, Missouri burn injury attorneys to schedule your free consultation by calling 314-725-7700 or by filling out our free, no obligation case review form. Learn if you may take legal action to recover for the serious and debilitating injuries from which you suffer. At Carey, Danis & Lowe you will receive prompt and personal attention from an experienced burn injury lawyer.