Companies working to keep fireplaces safe for kids

SEATTLE -- Kids and fireplaces can be a potentially dangerous mix, and open flames aren't the only thing parents have to worry about.

Little Brandon Christiansen was just 13 months old when his hands were seriously burned by the glass on the family's gas fireplace.

"He was stuck, hands pressed up against the glass, like this. And I just ran as fast as I could and I just grabbed him and peeled him off," said Brandon's mom, Shari Christiansen.

It's been 16 months since Brandon suffered those burns. He's already undergone three operations and a fourth is scheduled for March.

"It's horrible," Shari said. "You never want to see your kid go through something like that."

What Shari and thousands of other parents like her didn't know is that while the glass on a fireplace keeps kids away from flames, it becomes super heated very quickly. In just a few minutes, the glass can reach a temperature of 400 degrees or more, which is hot enough to cause serious burns.

"It's effectively like an oven without a door and parents are unaware of this risk," said Dr. Beth Ebel, director of the Harborview Injury Prevention and Research Center.

Experts say hundreds of kids across the county are seriously injured this way each year.

"And if a child was to touch that glass, their skin will actually melt to the glass, it gets that hot," said Don Mays, the director of product safety at Consumer Reports.

Toddlers are naturally attracted to flames, and they move quickly enough that oftentimes parents can't stop them before they reach the fireplace.

And the danger doesn't go away once the fire goes out. The glass can stay dangerously hot long after the flames go out.

Just a few weeks ago, young Mackenzie Spellman touched the glass on her family's fireplace. It had been off for more than an hour, but his hands were burned.

"I know it happens. And I've known other people it's happened to. Did I think it would happen in my home? Of course, not," said Mackenzie's mom, Erika.

Ebel said she's seen these types of burns many times.

Some might think kids wouldn't be burned if only their parents paid more attention, but Ebel said that is not the case.
"It breaks our hearts," she said. "We take care of child after child with these little burned palms."

"This is not a problem that you can fix with good supervision," she said. "Families tell us time and time again that just in an instant that child is there and at the fireplace."

Right now there are no federal regulations that require fireplace manufacturers to protect kids from the glass, but the industry realizes there's a problem and has come up with a fix.

Starting next year, all new gas fireplaces will come with a barrier that doesn't block views of the flames but better protects children from burns.

"I don't want to see another child go through what Brandon is going through," Shari said. "I want everybody to learn from this and protect their children."

There are also fixes available now, and you can find out more about them here and here.