Panel at UPMC Mercy focuses on burn education and prevention

By: Colleen Zewe

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Summer is popular for its fireworks and bonfires, but many summer activities pose an increased risk for burn injuries.

The UPMC Mercy Trauma and Burn Centers and UPMC Office of Prehospital Services recently offered tips for summertime fire safety and injury prevention during a panel-style press conference.

The main focus of the panel was burn education and prevention. The panel included Jenny Ziembicki, M.D., medical director of center; Lisa Epps, fire inspector and fire prevention officer from the City of Pittsburgh; Mark Pinchalk, paramedic coordinator from the City of Pittsburgh Bureau of Emergency Medical Services; Matthew Brown, chief of emergency services at Allegheny County; and three previous burn patients.

Burns from fireworks, kitchen fires and outdoor fires can all cause harm, and around the Fourth of July, fireworks are in the spotlight.

“Burn injuries can be life-changing and devastating,” said Dr. Ziembicki. “It’s our job to show people what’s safe, and that’s not fireworks. We recommend alternatives such as glow sticks.”

Camp fires also pose significant risk.

Mary Arnold, a patient on the panel, spoke about her injuries after an accelerant was thrown on a campfire. She spent 44 days in the hospital and required multiple surgeries.

“The accelerant was in an unmarked bottle and three of us got burned,” she said. “The fire would have been fine without the accelerant.”

Gretchen McDaniel sustained injuries after a kitchen fire started by grease. In 2015, McDaniel underwent training to become a burn peer supporter for the Phoenix Society’s SOAR program at UPMC Mercy, and she continues to share her story to inspire other patients who have sustained burn injuries.

“You need to have a safety plan,” she said. “Fire extinguishers and smoke detectors are extremely important.”

A third patient, Diane Koerbel, also spoke about her experiences. In addition to burn injuries, she fractured her spine after jumping from her burning home, requiring comprehensive rehabilitation.

summer safety donationIn addition to the panel discussion, UPMC Mercy made donations to local EMS agencies. They included glow sticks, oven mitts and rubber duck thermometers to prevent scald injuries to children. The City of Pittsburgh Fire Department was also presented 100 smoke detectors, which will be passed out to households in need.

Ultimately, with proper prevention, education and a safety plan, most fire-related injuries are preventable.

To learn more about fire safety, click here.