Summer Safety Tips

Fairfax County Office of Public Affairs
12000 Government Center Parkway, Suite 551
Fairfax, VA 22035-0065
703-324-3187, TTY 703-324-2935, FAX 703-324-2010

June 21, 2005

Summer Safety Tips

As summer officially begins today, Fairfax County has information and resources available for residents on many topics to ensure a safe and fun summertime.

Heat Safety
Heat takes the greatest toll on the very young and the very old, especially children under age 5 and senior citizens over age 65. Intense summer temperatures also greatly affect people who are already sick or take certain medications, including diuretics, antihistamines, beta-blockers, tranquilizers and anticholinergics. To keep cool, follow this general advice:

  • Drink plenty of fluids.
  • Do not drink caffeinated or alcoholic beverages because they dehydrate the body.
  • Stay indoors as much as possible. Spend time in an air-conditioned place if possible; resting for just two hours in air conditioning can significantly reduce heat-related illnesses.
  • Slow down. Avoid strenuous physical activities or reschedule them for the coolest part of the day, usually the early morning.
  • Eat light meals, avoiding high-protein foods because they increase metabolic heat.
  • Don’t take salt tablets unless directed by a doctor.
  • Wear light-colored clothing, which helps reflect sunlight.
  • Wear sunscreen to prevent sunburn. Sunburn makes it more difficult for your body to cool off.
  • Never leave children or pets unattended in a car—not even for a few minutes. Even with the windows slightly open, the temperature in a car on a 93-degree day can soar to 125 degrees in just 20 minutes and approximately 140 degrees in 40 minutes.

Picnics and Food Safety
Warm weather also means the picnic season has arrived. To be safe, the Health Department reminds picnickers that raw meat and poultry need to stay in a cooler with ice until cooked thoroughly. You are encouraged to keep all perishable foods, especially those made with raw eggs or mayonnaise, in the cooler as much as possible. When transporting food, keep it cold by using an insulated cooler with sufficient ice or ice packs to keep the food at 40 degrees or below. Pack food right from the refrigerator into the cooler immediately before leaving home, and keep the cooler in the coolest part of your car. Also, keep your cooler out of direct sun and in the shade or under a shelter. Avoid opening the lid too often, which lets cold air out and warm air in. Pack beverages in one cooler and perishables in a separate cooler. For more information on summertime food safety, contact the Fairfax County Health Department, 703-246-2411, TTY 703-591-6435, or visit

Grilling Safety
When grilling, remember that Fairfax County only permits cooking devices on apartment or condominium balconies that use either electricity or natural gas as a fuel source and are listed by a recognized testing authority. When barbecuing, keep the grill in a level position at all times. If using charcoal, douse the coals thoroughly with water after grilling, and never leave children or pets unattended near a hot grill. With charcoal grills, only use starter fluids designed for that purpose. With gas grills, check hoses for cracking, brittleness, holes and leaks. Make sure there are no sharp bends in the hose or tubing. Always store the gas cylinder outside and away from the house. Never use gasoline and never add more liquid fuel after the fire has started. For more information on grill safety, contact Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Public Information and Life Safety Education, 703-246-3801, TTY 703-385-4419, or visit For more on food handling and grilling, contact the Fairfax County Health Department, 703-246-2411, TTY 703-591-6435 or

Fireworks Safety
The July 4 holiday means fireworks. Parents are encouraged to remind children that fireworks are explosive devices, not toys. Left to professionals, fireworks can be a spectacular addition to holidays and celebrations, but in the hands of amateurs, fireworks can turn festivities into tragedy. Also remember that many fireworks are not available in Northern Virginia because they are illegal. The possession of unapproved fireworks is prohibited in Fairfax County and they will be confiscated; people possessing them may be charged with a Class 1 misdemeanor, which carries a maximum penalty of $2,500 and/or one year in jail. Any firework that explodes, emits a flame, sparks or performs as a projectile higher than 12 feet is prohibited by the Fairfax County Fire Prevention Code. If planning to enjoy approved fireworks, have water available for extinguishing discarded fireworks or in case of an emergency, light fireworks one at a time, keep bystanders at least 20 feet away, never throw fireworks, do not permit children to handle or light fireworks (sparklers can reach a temperature of 1,800 degrees), and read the directions before using. For more information on fireworks safety, contact Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Public Information and Life Safety Education, 703-246-3801, TTY 703-385-4419, or visit

Sun Safety and Children
The American Academy of Pediatrics reports babies under 6 months need extra protection from the sun. Their sensitive skin is thinner than adult skin, which causes them to sunburn more easily than an adult. Even babies with naturally darker skin need protection. Since young children are more vulnerable to the sun, here are some specific rules for children younger than 1 year old:

  • Babies younger than 6 months should be kept out of the direct sunlight. Keep them in the shade and under a tree, umbrella or the stroller canopy.
  • Dress your babies in clothing that covers the body, such as comfortable lightweight long pants, long-sleeved shirts and hats with brims that shade the face and cover the ears.
  • If your baby gets a sunburn and is younger than 1 year, contact your pediatrician—a severe sunburn is an emergency.
  • For babies younger than 6 months, the risks or benefits of sunscreen use are not yet known. If your baby needs to be outdoors, discuss sunscreen and other options with your pediatrician.
  • For babies older than 6 months, choose a sunscreen made for children.

For children older than 1, follow these simple rules to protect your family from sunburns now and from skin cancer later in life:

  • Choose sunscreen that is made for children, preferably waterproof. Before covering your child completely, test the sunscreen on your child's back for a reaction. Apply carefully around the eyes, avoiding the eyelids. If a rash develops, talk to your pediatrician.
  • If your child gets a sunburn that results in blistering, pain or fever, contact your pediatrician.

Pool Safety
Swimming is a great way to beat the heat. Never leave children alone or out of eye contact while they are in or near the water. An adult should be within arm’s length whenever an infant or toddler is in the pool. Remove toys from the area when you’re not using them since toys can attract young children to the pool. If you own a pool, require that all adults in your family learn CPR. Also, have a cordless phone and emergency equipment (such as life preservers and shepherd’s crook) poolside in case of emergency. For more information, contact Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Public Information and Life Safety Education, 703-246-3801, TTY 703-385-4419, or visit

Boat Safety
Water safety includes boating and other recreational activities on ponds, lakes and streams. Children should wear Coast Guard-approved life jackets at all times when on boats or near bodies of water. Make sure the life jacket is the right size for your child and is not loose. Inflatable water toys or rafts should never be used as life jackets or life preservers. Adults should also wear life jackets for their own protection and to set a good example for children. Outfit the family pet with a life preserver as well since most dogs are not by nature excellent swimmers. Always watch the weather before and during a boating outing. Return to port as soon as you hear or see a storm. For more information, contact Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Public Information and Life Safety Education, 703-246-3801, TTY 703-385-4419, or visit

Child Supervision Guidelines
When school’s not in session, it is sometimes necessary to leave children unattended for short periods of time, although children 7 or younger should never be left unattended. Lack of supervision is one of the most prevalent child neglect problems in Fairfax County. The following guidelines represent minimally acceptable standards for the supervision of children and have been developed by social work professionals in collaboration with the community. There may be situations, even within these guidelines, when it is not safe to leave a child unsupervised. Parents ultimately are responsible for making decisions about their child’s safety. Whenever any child is unsupervised or unattended the following should apply:

  • There must be no emotional, medical or behavioral problems which affect judgment or decision-making skills.
  • Child must be comfortable being alone.
  • Child must have a safety plan worked out with the parent/caretaker and must demonstrate the ability to follow the safety plan.

Age Guidelines

  • 7 years and under: Should not be left alone for any period of time.
  • 8 to 10 years: Should not be left alone for more than 90 minutes and only during daylight and early evening hours.
  • 11 to 12 years: May be left alone for up to three hours but not late at night or in circumstances requiring inappropriate responsibility.
  • 13 to 15 years: May be left unsupervised, but not overnight.
  • 16 to 17 years: May be left unsupervised (in some cases, for up to two consecutive overnight periods).

This information is online at or you may call the Department of Family Services’ Child Protective Services Hotline at 703-324-7400, TTY 703-222-9452.

Pet Safety
“Leave your pets at home.” That is the advice Fairfax County Animal Control officers give pet owners at this time of year. Take the dog to the veterinarian’s office or to the dog park, but do not take it on errands, even when you are “just going to be a minute.” Days that seem mild to humans are too hot for a pet to be locked in a car. Leaving a window down an inch or two is not enough to provide a safe environment for your pet. Fifteen minutes in a hot car is enough for animal body temperatures to go from normal to deadly. If the temperature is in the 60s or higher, many experts recommend not leaving pets or children in parked cars, even for short periods. If you must keep your pet in the car briefly, choose a shady spot, leave the windows down as far as possible (and the pet restrained) or keep the air conditioning on.

If you see an animal in a parked car that appears to be in distress or could soon be in distress, call the Public Safety Communications Center at 703-691-2131, TTY 711. Note the car make and model, license plate number and the location. If the pet owner might be in a nearby store, you can have the store page the owner over a public address system. Animal control officers, police officers and fire and rescue personnel have the authority to break into a car to rescue an animal in distress. Depending on the health of the animal at the time it is rescued, the owners can be charged with animal cruelty.

The most effective way to eliminate mosquitoes around your home is to tip and toss the standing water where mosquitoes lay their eggs. Common problem areas and ways to correct them are:

  • Roof gutters—clean out leaves and debris blocking and holding water.
  • Discarded cans and containers—remove, store inside or turn upside down.
  • Old tires—store tires where they will not collect rainwater.
  • Bird baths—clean and change the water every five to seven days.
  • Wading pools—change water regularly and turn over when not in use.
  • Drainage ditches—keep open and free from debris that holds water.
  • Canoes and boats—cover with a tight-fitting tarp or turn upside down.
  • Tarps on woodpiles or garden equipment—remove sagging areas.
  • Ornamental ponds—stock with small fish.
  • Puddles and wet or soggy areas—drain or backfill.
  • Treat standing water on your property with a lavaracide to prevent mosquito breeding.

To avoid mosquito bites, make sure that all window and door screens fit tightly and are free of holes that mosquitoes can use to enter the house. When outside, wear light-colored clothing with long sleeves and long pants. Use insect repellent indicated for mosquitoes and follow the label instructions. For more information on how to protect yourself from mosquitoes, call the Health Department at 703-246-2300, TTY 703-591-6435, or visit

The long summer days bring out other critters in addition to mosquitoes. Enjoy natural wildlife from a distance. Wild animals can carry rabies, a virus that attacks the nervous system and can kill any mammal, including humans. Pet owners also are reminded to have pets vaccinated every year—it’s the law. For additional information, contact the Fairfax County Police Animal Control Division at 703-830-3310 (voice/TTY), the county’s wildlife biologist at 703-266-3523, TTY 711, or visit

The Health Department cautions that people should avoid contact with unfamiliar pets, stray animals and all wildlife. Because the rabies virus is shed in the saliva of sick animals, health officials caution that any animal bite should be taken seriously. Anyone bitten by an animal, wild or domestic, should wash the wound immediately and notify a physician, the Health Department or Animal Control.  Likewise, residents should immediately contact a veterinarian or the Health Department if their pet is bitten by a wild animal. Animal bites can be reported to the Fairfax County Health Department at 703-246-2951, TTY 703-591-6435, or Fairfax County Animal Control at 703-830-3310 (voice/TTY).

Health officials recommend the following steps to prevent families and pets from exposure to rabies:

  • Vaccinate all cats, dogs and ferrets against rabies and keep the vaccination current.
  • Avoid contact with wild animals, stray cats and stray dogs.
  • Do not feed wild animals, stray cats and stray dogs.
  • Report stray animals to Fairfax County Animal Control.
  • Eliminate outdoor food sources around the home.
  • Keep pets confined to your property or walk them on a leash.

Other Information
In addition to following these tips, consider taking advantage of the county’s many summer programs and services.

The Fairfax County Area Agency on Aging is giving away free fans to income-eligible senior adults who need them for health reasons. This program runs until Sept. 30, and seniors can apply for a fan by contacting Kim Karlinchak at 703-324-7694, TTY 703-449-1186 or by e-mail at

If a fan doesn’t keep you from breaking a sweat, then jump into the refreshing waters at one of the county’s nine indoor pools, including the new Cub Run RECenter, 4630 Stonecroft Blvd., Chantilly. The Fairfax County Park Authority offers some of the metropolitan area’s best aquatics facilities. Or, take a class, such as darkroom techniques, at one of the Park Authority’s air-conditioned recreation centers. To find a pool or RECenter near you, visit, or check for a class schedule.

For other cool summer activities, pick up the Fairfax County Department of Family Services’ “Guide to Summer Fun and Safety,” an 18-page booklet full of safety tips and fun activities. Inside its pages are important safety tips for children. Get a guide at the county’s recreation centers, libraries or through the department. Call 703-324-7400, option “2,” TTY 703-222-9452.



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