Jay Leno’s burn injury serves as reminder to expand our CRR messaging

The aftermath of a serious incident can be the critical moment to expand our life safety messaging and connect with the public


On Monday, we heard news of a serious fire-related injury that most of us would never have heard about had it not been for the celebrity status of the victim.

Comedian and former “Tonight Show” host Jay Leno was reportedly working on one of his many vintage vehicles when some sort of flash fire occurred, causing him serious burns. Leno is being treated at the Grossman Burn Center in Los Angeles.

The latest NFPA data shows that U.S. fire departments respond to over 210,000 flammable liquid and combustible gas fire incidents every year. While we hear about the “big ones,” most of these incidents are typically small in nature, handled by individual fire departments in our communities. Of course, the impact can be far-reaching for the individuals involved, like Leno.

Comedian and former
Comedian and former "Tonight Show" host Jay Leno was reportedly burned while working on one of his vintage cars. (Photo by John Salangsang/Invision/AP, File)

The good news: The impact of community risk reduction (CRR) can be far-reaching as well.

Expand Our CRR messaging

We’re accustomed to CRR efforts that emphasize smoke alarms, escape planning and general fire safety. I can personally attest to the effectiveness of these efforts with the story of Tamia Price, who saved her mother and herself by remembering what firefighters had told her at school about how to escape a fire. (If you haven’t read the story, I encourage you to check out “Out of tragedy, an affirmation that fire prevention messages do work.”) But rarely do we see messaging focused on flammable liquid and combustible gas safety, at least not to our residential and educational base.

Following this unfortunate event, we should seize upon an opportunity to make a real impact on those 210,000 calls. Some simple tweaks to the messaging, including increased attention on carbon monoxide detectors, space ventilation, and the ubiquitous “stop, drop and roll” messaging, form the basis for a campaign that we can use now – while the discussion is top of mind – to educate the public.

The American Burn Association is doing just this – and we can, too. The Association shared a press release yesterday detailing key safety guidance that can easily be shared with our communities:

“Most injuries occur at home through misuse or improper storage. Even products such as turpentine or tile bonding agents can present a serious risk of flame or chemical injury if not used with fire safety in mind.

“Gasoline’s only proper use is to power engines. Fill gas-powered equipment only when the engine is cool. Gasoline should be stored in an approved portable container and placed in as secure, cool, well-ventilated area away from the house, potential flame sources, and out of the reach of children. Don't open gas cans in basements or garages or other closed in spaces where the vapor is more likely to ignite because of less air movement and more ignition sources. Fumes are capable of ignition up to 12 feet from the source.”

The Association also offered guidance for how to help a victim who has experienced a gasoline-related flame burn injury:

  • Remove the victim from any flame source.
  • Stop the burning process by smothering any flames on clothing.
  • Call 911.
  • Carefully remove burned clothing not sticking to the body and any unburned clothing saturated with gasoline.
  • Cool the body with water; flushing with water will also help reduce the amount of toxic gasoline chemicals entering the body through the burn wound.

This kind of guidance is a critical part of our CRR efforts.

We should always strive to educate our citizens and empower them to not only call 911 but also be able to help themselves beyond fire extinguishers and smoke alarms. The burn injury-reduction messaging, for me, is akin to us advocating for residential sprinklers, whether new or retrofit. Understanding that the risk we are trying to reduce extends beyond traditional fire prevention messaging and encompasses many of the concepts that make up mobile integrated healthcare (MIH) programs.

Pivot, not a change

This is an opportunity to pivot, not an indication of the need for widespread change. It’s a reminder that our CRR efforts take many forms – and sometimes the aftermath of an incident is when the public is more open to receiving our messages. After all, we live in the era of the “8 second attention span,” so we must use these moments to expand our life safety messaging beyond the basics, as quickly as we can.

You never know when your messaging will have that Tamia Price impact.

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