Fireproof Your Furry Friends

Pets may be adorable, but they are also fire hazards. A doctor at The Burn Center at Saint Barnabas Medical Center shares insight on how to keep both you and them safe.
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Michael Marano, M.D., medical director of The Burn Center at Saint Barnabas Medical Center, has seen everything when it comes to housefires and the damage they cause. And one common reason for which he sees patients is one you may not think about; fires caused by pets. “We definitely have patients who have fires where pets caused the problems,” he says.

According to the National Fire Prevention Association, household pets are responsible for more than 1,000 house fires each year in the United States. “A cat doesn’t know not to jump on the counter with the candle. The dog doesn’t know not to tip the pot of boiling water over,” Dr. Marano says. Here, he offers some tips to help prevent fires and burns caused by Fido and Fluffy.

  • Keep your head clear. “About 80 percent of the people we see in The Burn Center are there because of impaired judgment,” he says. Whether it’s alcohol, drugs, mental illness, or an older adult with dementia or a small child, poor judgment leads to many fires and burns. “I would include pets—you can’t trust their judgment,” he says. More to the point, be sure your judgment is sound, and keep close watch on those with impaired capacities, pets included.
  • Blow out candles, turn off stoves and extinguish fireplace fires. “Understand that you cannot leave your house with candles burning,” he says. “It seems like common sense, but you’d be surprised how often people forget to do this.”
  • Use flameless candles. Battery-powered candles have come a long way—they look remarkably realistic without being a safety hazard.
  • Keep pets out of the kitchen when cooking. Along with starting fires, pets can cause pots of boiling liquid or trays of piping-hot food to spill onto people, causing serious burns. Don’t let them get under foot when you’re busy preparing a meal.
  • Hide or cover electrical cords. Animals like to chew, and may see a cord as a delicious chew toy. If frayed, it can spark a fire or result in electrocution with significant burn injuries. “I have seen that happen,” Dr. Marano says. Keep cords short, and if your pet likes to chew on them, spray them with bittertasting sprays (available at most pet stores) to deter them from doing so.
  • Cover stove knobs. If your cat or small dog likes to jump on the stove, he or she can accidentally turn the knob on and start a flame. (Young children can do the same, without the jumping, of course.) Covers and restricted access can prevent both from doing so.

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