Treating Burns


You're helping out as security personnel for your town’s 4th of July fireworks show to ensure people don’t get too close to the mortars being used. As the show is going on, one of the mortars flares up and you see one of the pyro technicians throw his arms up to protect his face and run away. You immediately get the guy standing next to you to call 911, run over to check on him as another technician is extinguishing flames. You see that he is not on fire and has a few burns on his forearms that are already starting to blister. His hands were spared due to the fire resistant gloves he was wearing. You're talking to him, asking him how he is and gauging his level of consciousness and looking over him for any other obvious injuries. What can you do to help at the most basic level? You have no medical kit with you and are not an advanced medical provider?


Burns can be life-threatening and need immediate intervention. Look for black-colored sputum, burned hair on the face or in the nostrils, soot on the face or in the nostrils, facial burns/blistering/swelling/redness, difficult/noisy breathing or a hoarse or rapid change in the pitch of the voice as this would indicate airway burns.


If any of the above symptoms are present, rapid, advanced medical intervention is needed. Keep the victim calm and in a position of comfort (the position in which they can breathe the easiest in). Look for any other injuries and treat those as necessary. Estimate the BSA (Body Surface Area) burned by using the "Rule of Nines" (http://www.emtresource.com/emergencies/burns/rule-of-nines/) and if greater than 20% (considered a critical burn), consider the use of a blanket of some sort to cover the burned area to keep it as clean as possible and to try and help prevent hypothermia. In addition to the face/airway, other critical areas are the hands, feet and genitals. In this case with only his forearms burned (9%), which isn’t critical. Remember, the skin keeps us protected and if it’s burned, we’ve got to protect it.


  1. Put out the fire.
  2. Get EMS on the way.
  3. Monitor the airway.
  4. Cool the burns.
  5. Dress the burns.
  6. Protect the blisters, don’t pop them.

Stay safe. Simplicity Under Stress