First Aid for Burns

Burn Injuries

Burns often cause extreme pain, scarring, or even death. Before administering first aid, you must be able to recognize the type of burn.

There are four types of burns:

  1. Thermal burns caused by fire, hot objects, hot liquids, and gases; or by nuclear blast or fireball.
  2. Electrical burns caused by electrical wires, current, or lightning.
  3. Chemical burns caused by contact with wet or dry chemicals.
  4. Laser burns (eye [ocular] injury).

First Aid for Burns

  1. Eliminate the Source of the Burn. The source of the burn must be eliminated before any evaluation of the casualty can occur and first aid administered.
    1. Quickly remove the casualty from danger and cover the thermal burn with any large nonsynthetic material, such as a field jacket. If the casualty’s clothing is still on fire, roll the casualty on the ground to smother (put out) the flames.
      CAUTION: Synthetic materials, such as nylon, may melt and cause further injury.
    2. Remove the electrical burn casualty from the electrical source by turning off the electrical current. DO NOT attempt to turn off the electricity if the source is not close by. Speed is critical, so DO NOT waste unnecessary time. If the electricity cannot be turned off, wrap any nonconductive material (dry rope, clothing, wood, and so forth) around the casualty’s back and shoulders and drag the casualty away from the electrical source. DO NOT make body-to-body contact with the casualty or touch any wires because you could also become an electrical burn casualty.
      WARNING: High voltage electrical burns may cause temporary unconsciousness, difficulties in breathing, or difficulties with the heart (heartbeat).
    3. Remove the chemical from the burned casualty. Remove liquid chemicals by flushing with as much water as possible. Remove dry chemicals by brushing off loose particles (DO NOT use the bare surface of your hand because you could become a chemical burn casualty) and then flush with large amounts of water, if available. If large amounts of water are not available, then NO water should be applied because small amounts of water applied to a dry chemical burn may cause a chemical reaction. When WP strikes the skin, smother with a wet cloth or mud. Keep WP covered with a wet material to exclude air; this should help prevent the particles from burning.
      Remove the laser burn casualty from the source. When removing the casualty from the laser beam source, be careful not to enter the beam or you may become a casualty. Never look directly at the beam source and if possible, wear appropriate eye protection.
      NOTE: After the casualty is removed from the source of the burn, he should be evaluated for conditions requiring basic first aid measures.
  2. Expose the Burn. Cut and gently lift away any clothing covering the burned area, without pulling clothing over the burns. Leave in place any clothing that is stuck to the burn. If the casualty’s hands or wrists have been burned, remove jewelry if possible without causing further injury (rings, watches, and so forth) and place in his pockets. This prevents the necessity to cut off jewelry since swelling usually occurs as a result of a burn.
    CAUTION: DO NOT lift or cut away clothing if in a chemical environment. Apply the dressing directly over the casualty’s protective clothing. DO NOT attempt to decontaminate skin where blisters have formed.
  3. Apply a Field Dressing to the Burn.
    1. Grasp the edges of the casualty’s dressing in both hands.
    2. Hold the dressing directly over the wound with the white side down and place it directly over the wound. DO NOT touch the white (sterile) side of the dressing or allow anything except the wound to come in contact with it. If the casualty is able, he may hold the dressing in place.
    3. Hold the dressing in place with one hand and use the other hand to wrap some tape or an elastic bandage / wrap over the dressing to hold it in place until it is completely covered. The tape or wrap should be applied lightly over the dressing, but firmly enough to hold the dressing in place and keep it from slipping
      NOTE: Use the cleanest improvised dressing material available if a field dressing is not available or if it is not large enough for the entire wound.
  4. Take the following precautions
    1. DO NOT break the blisters.
    2. DO NOT apply grease or ointments to the burns.
    3. For electrical burns, check for both an entry and exit burn from the passage of electricity through the body. Exit burns may appear on any area of the body despite location of entry burn.
    4. For burns caused by wet or dry chemicals, flush the burns with large amounts of water and cover with a dry dressing.
    5. For laser burns, apply a field dressing.
    6. If the casualty is conscious and not nauseated, give him small amounts of water.
    7. Take the Following Precautions
    8. DO NOT place the dressing over the face or genital area.
  5. Seek Medical Assistance. Notify available medical personnel.

The information on this page has been adapted from the U.S. Army Field Manual 4-25.11, First Aid