There are three general types of electrical burns; thermal (heat & flame), arc (flash) and true electrical (contact).
- A thermal burn happens when something is ignited by the electricity, like clothes. No current passes through the body. Treat these as thermal burns.
An arc burn (also called a flash or flashover burn) occurs when electricity arcs from one point to the other. The current does not pass through the body. Arc burns can cause severe third-degree burns at the start and end points.
A true electrical burn is when current actually passes through the body. Typically there is an entrance and exit wound, although there may actually be several exit wounds if the electricity exited from several points. The burn at the surface of the body is usually the least of your concerns. The current passing through the body can disrupt the heart rhythm and cause cardiac arrest. During the electrical shock, the current travels through the path of least resistance, usually the nerves and blood vessels. The major damage has occurred inside the body, sometimes cooking the meat inside the body.
When confronted with an electrical emergency, it is paramount that you do not get shocked yourself. Never attempt to remove or displace high voltage power lines. You must use a high-voltage gigger pole, which is made out of fiberglass, to remove the lines. If the voltage is high enough, electricity can travel through wood lawn tool handles and branches. If you are walking towards the victim and you feel a tingling in your feet or legs, electricity is traveling from one foot, through your groin, to the other foot. Lift one foot and hop away from the power line.
If you come across a victim of electrical burns:
- Make sure the area is safe. If indoors, unplug the cord or switch off the circuit breaker. If outdoors, do not approach the victim if there is a power line on or near the body. Contact Emergency Services (911 in the US), then contact the power company.
- If it is safe to get to the victim, assess the damage, check for breathing, then check for heartbeat. Perform emergency breathing and CPR if needed.
- If victim fell after getting shocked, treat as if there is a spinal injury.
- Treat the victim for shock by elevating the legs 8 to 12 inches off of the ground and keep the person warm.
- Seek emergency care immediately. True electrical burns usually require extensive burn care at a specialized burn center.
Take a first aid course to prepare yourself to save someones life.