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A Tale of Safe Signals

By Lisa Murray-Johnson, PhD, The Ohio State University Medical Center and Ohio State University Nisonger Center
“We are grateful he’s alive.” Pat’s voice was strong, but you could still hear the heartache as she described the horrific fire that injured her son John and claimed the life of his roommate and a caregiver. “He was burned over 18 percent of his body and Fred and I knew it would be a long recovery.” As a young adult with autism and other developmental disabilities, John recovered at The Ohio State University Medical Center’s Burn Unit.
I thought I was just having lunch with my colleagues Pat Cloppert and Becky Coffey. I didn’t realize how prevalent burn injuries were among young adults, nor was I aware that Becky had cared for John. Becky Coffey, RN, CNP, is a nurse practitioner in the OSUMC Burn Unit. She said 68 percent of all burn and hot water scalds happen at home. These were the statistics from the National Burn Registry from 2001-2010, a database that records burns from such events as fires, hot water, hot objects and chemicals. The numbers were startling; as many as 450,000 people need medical treatment for burn injuries each year:

  • 44 percent of burns are from flame fires.
  • 33 percent of burns are from hot water scalds.
  • 9 percent are from contact with hot objects.

And these are only the reported injuries. Those who treat their injuries at home without a doctor or hospital visit are not included. It underscores the enormity of the problem.
Pat Cloppert, BSFS, is an advocate and public speaker for family services and autism at The Ohio State University’s NisongerCenterfor Developmental Disabilities. Her life has been to the service of others. But that day, she was a mom. We were three health professionals who were mothers. What if that had been my child?
The Safe Signals project was born. The goal was simple: Create a tool kit with a video, workbook and vinyl clings that would serve as everyday safety reminders. Burn and scald prevention education also has the potential to reduce other household injuries and fires in the home. Diane Moyer, RN, patient education associate director, and fire fighter Jaime Sierra, a public education specialist with Columbus Division of Fire, rounded out our team.
We also needed young adults to help us with this project. It was meant to be a project by young adults, and for young adults. Pat and her colleague Jeff Siegel, MSW, social worker for Aspirations Ohio and also at theNisongerCenter, helped to coordinate young adults on the autism spectrum to join us. Together, we were each other’s teachers and students.
There are so many moments that make the Safe Signals project special: Justin Rooney, our narrator, showing his gift of voiceover work, or Alissa Mangan and Tommi Lee Gillard working to shape the dialogue of the video script so that it felt comfortable. Or the moments when Seamus McCord and Tom Robison worked through the kitchen scene finding humor in overcooked noodles for the macaroni and cheese. And Zoe Castro, our Spanish narrator, graciously helping us navigate cultural sensitivities.
We hope you find the Safe Signals toolkit helpful in looking at your own living space with a fresh perspective. Most safety behaviors take very little time and money. From our homes to yours, we wish you safe living!

  • Plan out safety behaviors for each task at home. For example, use oven gloves and pan lids to protect yourself when cooking.
  • Practice safety behaviors and place reminders in each room to help you.
  • Set the hot water heater or boiler to 120 degrees Fahrenheit (48 degrees Celsius) to avoid burns. Always turn on the cold water first, and then add warm water.
  • Create a fire escape plan. If there is a fire, get outside and then call 911. Do not go back inside. Wait for help to arrive.
  • Install smoke and carbon monoxide detectors where you live. Test them each month and change the batteries every 6 months.

Note: Pat Cloppert, BSFS, contributed to this blog.