18 August 2019
In case of fire, people at the scene should stay calm. Photo: CNSA
In case of fire, people at the scene should stay calm. Photo: CNSA

Fire emergency do’s and don’ts

The firebomb attack on an MTR train on Feb. 10 highlights the need to bolster fire safety measures in public places and promote public awareness of how to respond to fire emergency cases.

Burns and scalds are common accidents and emergencies caused by fire, chemicals, electricity, sunlight, radiation, hot liquid or steam, etc.

In case of fire or in a place filled with smoke or gas, people at the scene should cover their faces with a wet towel in order to prevent injuries from smoke inhalation.

We should remember that the lining of our respiratory tract is extremely vulnerable to high temperature.

Those who suffer from face and neck burns or experience singed nasal hair, voice change and wheezing are very likely to have inhalation injuries and should be given priority in receiving medical care.

Burns are classified as first-, second- or third-degree, depending on how deep and severe they penetrate the surface of the skin.

First-degree burns involve only the epidermis, while second-degree burns reach the epidermis and superficial dermis, and result in large blisters.

Patients with second-degree burns may feel extreme pain.

For third-degree burns, the epidermis and entire dermis are damaged, appearing white, black or cherry red, but no blisters. Since the nerve endings have been destroyed, patients might report no sensation.

To evaluate the degree of burn, the rule of nines is employed. A burn covering more than 10 percent of the body is considered critical.

As children have a higher ratio of body surface area to weight, the estimation would require consideration of the patient’s age.

In case of fire, stay calm and take the following steps:

1. Leave the scene promptly. If your body catches fire, remove the affected clothing at once.

You should stop fanning the area that catches fire, and instead drop to the floor and roll yourself on the floor until the fire is extinguished.

2. Remove any burnt clothing from the victim with care. However, any fabric that has melted and is stuck to the wound should be left as is.

3. Conduct a primary survey of the victims. Check their ABC – airway, breathing and circulation.

4. Treat burn wounds. Cool the burn as quickly as possible with cool running water for at least 10 minutes, or until the pain is relieved. Cover the wounds with sterilized gauzes. (If it is a large burned area, the cooling might lead to hypothermia.)

Following the MTR attack, plenty of myths about how to treat burns are being widely circulated online.

Here are some items that may pose problems instead of treat burn cases:

1. Flour. Flour, instead of cooling burn wounds, hinders their cooling.

2. Soda or alkaline food. The application of soda or alkaline to acidic burns might help neutralize the chemicals; however, the release of a large amount of heat could cause further harm to the victim.

3. Salt, mint, sugar, soy sauce, etc. The application of salt would result in further extraction of water from the burn wounds, thus speeding up the death of tissues. The other items could lead to wound infection.

4. Toothpaste. It has no antiseptic function. Worse, it might contain germs and its abrasive ingredients might lead to wound infection.

5. Gentian violet or merbromin. These are weak antiseptics that won’t help burn victims at all. In fact, the dyes in these substances could hinder the accurate estimation of the percentage of burn on the victim’s body.

6. Disinfectant wipes containing alcohol. Never use them on burn wounds as they could only cause harm to burn victims.

7. Aloe vera. While it might be helpful in case of mild sunburn, aloe vera has limited uses in soothing inflamed skin in emergencies.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Feb. 17.

Translation by Darlie Yiu with additional reporting

[Chinese version 中文版]

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FHKAM (Medicine)

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