By Alex Viktora
Wildland Firefighters receive burn injuries every season. Often times some sort of flammable liquid ignites resulting in a burn, like the rather common drip torch leg burn scenario mentioned in this NWCG memo. Other times we fall in stump holes and ash pits—sometimes up to our waist!
And then there is the plain old flame front scorching our elbows through Nomex or the super bad deal entrapment situations. Bottom line, it happens. So we need to know how best to follow through on medical treatment for these instances—because you can do it wrong, and wrong hurts!
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Information Collected from Multiple Burn Injury Incidents—Here are Some of the Most Important Reminders, Lessons and Tips
First of all, if you or someone with you, gets burned, report the injury! Even if you think it’s a minor burn, even if you think you screwed-up somehow—let someone know about the burn. Chances are it’s worse than it seems and time untreated can be a bad deal all around—from paperwork to infections. It’s just better to let someone know and get the ball rolling toward proper treatment.
Go to the place that can help – It’s called Definitive Medical Care (Emergency Room, Clinic, etc.)
- Burn injuries are often difficult to evaluate and may take 72 hours to fully manifest.
- Burns are different. Not all doctors have experience with the types of burns that firefighters suffer. Burns require specialized experience to treat appropriately. This often means that the injured party will need to seek care at a Burn Center.
- Burns must be kept clean. Therefore, the fireline isn’t a good place to try to manage a burn injury. If you’re treated and released, don’t go back to the line. Don’t go up on a lookout. Focus on taking care of your burn injury.
Nobody wants to hang out at the hospital, but make sure to run through this list before you are discharged:
- Make sure your Agency Administrator is notified, especially if you’ll require follow-up treatment and referral to a Burn Center.
- Agency Administrators should be involved if there is hesitation to refer to a Burn Center.
- Referrals to Burn Centers are critical and must be in the patient’s hands before leaving the Emergency Room, clinic, or doctor’s office.
- When there is any doubt as to the severity of the burn injury, the recommended action should be to facilitate the immediate referral and transport of the firefighter to the nearest Burn Center.
- Physicians Assistants (PA) CANNOT write referrals for Burn Centers (or any other increased level of care). If a PA prescribes any follow-up, including Burn Center visits, it must be countersigned by a Doctor (MD).
Copy? Here’s the deal: Get your higher-ups involved. Have a discussion with your higher-ups about a Burn Center referral.
Burn Center Tips
- Burn Centers have both in and outpatient services. If you think you might need to go to a Burn Center, ask to be referred—even if you won’t need inpatient treatment (hospital stay).
- Burn Centers may prefer to consult via telemedicine (such as e-mailing photos or videos of the injury, video-calls, etc.), rather than transporting a patient to their facility.
- Ask about the option to have a Nurse Case Manager assigned to the case.
OWCP Claimant tips
- Your OWCP claim number is critical. Once you get this claim number, put it in a place you’ll be able to access when you’re on the phone with doctors, visiting the hospital, filling prescriptions, etc.
- YOU—the patient and claimant—are ultimately responsible for your OWCP case. Get involved. Pay attention. Ask questions. If you’re not getting the answers you need, keep asking.
Call the Wildland Firefighter Foundation (208) 336-2996. They have experience dealing with folks who have received burn injuries in the line of duty.
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