How one mother's quick thinking saved her seven-month-old son from lifelong scars.

Writer Anthony Hasphall is a St John Ambulance Victoria training team manager.

Clare is a nurse and First Aid volunteer with St John, so you could say she’s more than skilled to respond to a medical emergency.

But she never imagined such an emergency might involve her baby son.

Suffering from a head cold, Clare was preparing a bowl of hot water and eucalyptus oil for herself when disaster struck last October. Her then seven-month old son Mitchell reached out of her arms and put his hand in the hot water. As he pulled his hand away, the bowl of hot water tipped over them both.

With a hysterical baby in her arms, Clare calmly got straight into the shower. Noticing nasty burns to Mitchell’s legs, she wrapped him in a cool towel and took him to the emergency ward at the Monash Medical Centre in Clayton. According to the medical team, her knowledge of burns First Aid treatment meant these quick-thinking actions prevented Mitchell from suffering any long-term scarring.

But could that really happen to me?

In my experience training thousands of people over the years in First Aid, including our own trainers, I hear time and time again that burns are one of the least understood and most painful injuries in childhood.  Clare’s story is a timely and important reminder, and I’m so thankful that she had the confidence to respond correctly. She ultimately prevented Mitchell from having any lifelong scars.

But unfortunately, Australia’s knowledge of burns First Aid is not comprehensive enough, with new research by St John Ambulance Victoria showing just over half (56 per cent) of parents know how to properly treat burns. Despite the fact that burns from hot household items are the most common household injuries in Australia, with 60 per cent of adults and 22 per cent of children sustain burns in the home.


Parents are more likely to know old wives’ tales about how to treat burns than they are trusted medical advice. However, Clare’s story highlights that accidents happen at home more easily than people think, so knowing what to do is key!

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What do I do if faced with a burn accident?

  • Remove jewellery and clothing from the burnt area unless stuck to the burn
  • Cool the burn under cold running water for at least 20 minutes
  • Cover the burn with a clean and lint-free cloth, or a piece of cling wrap for larger areas, to protect the skin from becoming infected
  • It’s best to avoid anything with adhesive, and steer clear of ointments and lotions
  • You should also encourage your child not to touch or pick at the burn as it heals, to reduce the chance of scarring and infection
  • For serious incidents, where the burn is larger than a 20 cent coin or is on the face, hands, feet or genitals, you should always seek medical attention
  • Similarly, you should get medical advice if you notice any complications arising as a result of the burn, for example if your child goes into shock, has trouble breathing, or if the burn is deep
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Don’t forget - prevention is better than a cure

In the case of very severe burns, injuries can have long-term health implications which require multiple visits to doctors and sometimes hospitalisation for treatment. If treated incorrectly, even minor burns can require painful dressing changes on a regular basis and sometimes leave children with permanent scarring.

That’s why prevention is better than cure and while most parents already know to take precautions to protect children against unforeseen risks, here is a quick reminder:

  • Hot liquids – several studies locally and internationally have shown the most common cause of burn injuries to children is scalds from hot liquids such as tea or bath water
    • Check the default temperature of your hot water heaters as many are well above the recommended 50°C, and keep in mind the maximum bathing temperature recommend for young children is 37-38°C
    • Also be mindful of putting cups of coffee or pots of water within reach of young children
  • The laundry – as increasingly concentrated chemicals used to clean our clothes and our homes become more common, so do the risk of chemical burns to children
    • Small, bright and innocent-looking laundry detergent pods for example may not immediately appear as dangerous as a bottle of bleach, but contain dangerous chemicals that can be harmful to eyes
    • Keep all laundry chemicals out of sight and reach from inquisitive hands
  • The car – metal buckles and fixtures on car seats get hot very quickly on a warm day
    • Always check the car seat before you settle your child down, and make sure any metal parts are not touching their skin
    • If you’re parking in the sunlight, put a blanket over the back seat to prevent it from getting hot

I hear too many distressing stories of parents bringing children to emergency departments with burns, and heartbreaking instances of toddlers with permanent burns scars. Thanks to a level-head and the right training, Clare and her son came out of a terrifying situation with no long-term consequences.

Nonetheless, her story highlights why every parent should take ten minutes from their day and learn burns First Aid – the power of knowledge in an emergency situation cannot be underestimated.

For more information about how to correctly treat your child for burns, check out our free Burns First guide and quiz that teaches First Aid for burns in under 10 minutes.