First aid and emergency care for burn injury
Even if you are not a medical professional, the action you take during and immediately after a fire burn can save a person’s life and help minimize their injury. Here you will find the steps you need to take to administer first aid of a burn injury – flame, scald and contact; chemical; and electrical.
Secure your own safety first
Always secure your own safety before helping a burn patient. Once you are safe, you can begin to stop the burn and help the patient.
Main steps of burn first aid:
- Stop the burning process
- Cool the burn
First aid for flame burns, scalds and contact burns
- Secure your own safety
- Stop the burning process – help the patient to “stop, drop, cover (face) and roll” in order to smother the flames. If available, use a fire blanket to assist with this.
- Remove clothing – working from head to toe, remove any hot or charred clothing and jewelry as quickly as possible.
- Cool the burn – run lukewarm water (15-30°C) over the burned surface area for at least 10 minutes. Cooling is effective for one hour after the burn.
- Keep the patient warm – after cooling the burn, it is important to keep the patient warm to prevent hypothermia, especially in children.
No lukewarm water to cool the burn?
Cold water causes the blood vessels to constrict – vasoconstriction – and this may deepen the burn. But if lukewarm water is not available, it is better to use cold water than not to cool at all.
If no water is available, you can use cooling blankets as a substitute. However, these can cause hypothermia, especially in children, so you should only use them at the site of the accident and while the patient is transported to the hospital.
First aid for chemical burns
- Secure your own safety. If available, use personal protective equipment – such as gloves, an apron, a protective face mask and overalls – to ensure your own safety and protection against the chemicals.
- Remove all contaminated clothing as quickly as possible. Brush or dry the chemicals off the patient using any suitable instrument, such as a towel or brush.
- Most chemical burns must be irrigated with copious amounts of lukewarm (15-30°C) running water for 60 minutes.
- Burns caused by bitumen are contact burns and must be cooled for at least 10 minutes.
- Burns caused by alkalis require a longer period of extensive irrigation (>1 hour) in order to remove the chemical particles and keep the wound wet.
- DO NOT irrigate the burn with water if it was caused by elemental sodium, potassium, lithium. Irrigating these with water can result in a chemical reaction that generates heat, worsening the burn. Instead, soak the burn with mineral oil while waiting for medical attention.
- Hydrofluoric acid burns must be neutralized with a calcium-gluconate gel, if available.
First aid for electrical burns
- Secure your own safety.
- Turn off the power source before touching the patient.
- Remove all clothing and jewelry as quickly as possible.
- Cool the burned area for 10 minutes with lukewarm (15-30°C) running water.
- Ask for specialized medical assistance as soon as possible when needed.
Once you have secured the safety of the patient, conduct a primary survey using the ABCDEF method.