Novelty Lighters Could be Dangerous Holiday Choice Fire Marshal Says (video)
(Crystal A. Proxmire, Dec. 16, 2015, orig. Dec. 15, 2014)
Lighters are not toys. It seems like an obvious statement for adults, but for Ferndale Fire Marshal Brian Batten it is a lesson that cannot be stated enough. Even in the Ferndale area there are about six fires a year started by children playing with fire in the home. Nationwide there are nearly 50,000 a year. Having lighters that look like little footballs, guns, fishing poles, cell phones, cars and toy animals adds to the problem.
“For most people these are a novelty. They buy them and light them a few times to show them off, and they lay them on a dresser, lay them on a counter top. They get stuck in a garage or in a drawer and that’s where the kids find them,” Batten said.
A 2008 report by the The US Fire Administration brought attention to the dangers of novelty and toy lighters. “On September 25, 2007, 15 month old Peyton Edwards and 2 year old Breydon Edwards of Russellville, Arkansas, died after setting fire to their apartment with a motorcycle-shaped lighter,” the report states. “In Oregon, one child died and another was permanently brain damaged after a 6-year-old, playing with a lighter that looked like a toy dolphin, started a fire. In another incident, a mother was severely burned after her child, playing with a lighter that resembled a Christmas tree, ignited the mother’s bed.”
In Maine a six year old in a grocery store picked up a baseball bat shaped lighter and began playing with it. He flicked the switch and a flame shot out, singing his eyebrow and burning part of his face. After this incident, Maine passed a ban on toy-like lighters in March 2008.
Since that time Batten has also pushed for legislation in Michigan. He’s assembled a display of novelty lighters that he brings to Lansing each year for a fire prevention luncheon to show elected officials what could be getting in the hands of Michigan’s youngest residents.
“Kids from age 10 and younger cannot realize how fast that fire can get out of control. They have no conception of it,” he said. “The problem is that kids have a natural curiosity of fire. Once they see us, they mimic us. They want to light the candle, they want to light the barbecue, stuff like that, like dad did or mom did… It’s a natural curiosity and they’re told no. They got their hand slapped, ‘don’t touch that, that’s bad.’ Well look at these things. These aren’t the typical lighter that mom and dad say no to.”
Batten has seen many fires in his career that started with kids and curiosity. He said that once a kid has a lighter – regular or novelty – they tend to take the lighter and hide with it.
“I tell parents, if you want to know if your kid is playing with fire, look under the bed or in the closet. You’ll see singe marks on the carpet or the underside of the bed. That’s where kids go to hide.”
Because children know they are in trouble if they play with fire, they are less likely to run and get help if they start one. They are more likely to hide, without thinking of the consequences as the fire quickly grows around them.
The scenario plays out over and over across the country, resulting in an average of 80 deaths per year and 860 injuries, according to a study done between 2007 and 2011.
Because novelty lighters are legal in Michigan, there is not much he and other concerned fire officials can do. He said there are stores in Ferndale and Royal Oak Township that continue to sell novelty lighters in spite of him explaining the potential consequences.
Batten will be sending a letter to the legislature again this year asking them to consider banning the sale of lighters that look like toys.
His advice to parents is to lock up all lighters and avoid the temptation to buy the “fun” ones. “They usually don’t light as well or last as long, and they cost more. It’s dangerous and it’s a waste of money.” He also cautions against thinking that novelty lighters would make good gifts. Barbecue lighters in the shapes of tools, fishing rods and sports items are marketed as holiday gifts, particularly in home improvement stores, and even in grocery stores and dollar stores they are within reach of children with their parents in the checkout lane.
“It’s just not worth the risk,” he said.