Burns trauma in warfare – lessons in care and prevention

Dr Wiktor Teodor Pilch1, Dr Edward Gibson1, Mr Bernard Carney1

1The Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Adelaide, Australia



Over the ages fire has been one of the most devastating weapons utilised in war. The burden of fire trauma in warfare is significant for both civilians and combatants and this has led to changes in burns care and the development of numerous techniques and devices to reduce mortality and morbidity from combat related burn trauma. This study details the changing nature of burn trauma in warfare and humanities attempts to mitigate this.


An extensive literature search of PubMed, Google Scholar and the National Archives of Australia was undertaken. Burns surgeons and Defence Force personnel were interviewed.


Significant developments and changes have emerged as better understanding of burn and human patho-physiology advanced. The first documented burns treatments date back to Ancient Egypt but it was the World Wars where a distinct change in the patterns of burn injuries was observed leading to rapid advances in medicine and burn care. Prevention has always been front of mind with the leather or metal armour of the past giving way to flame retardant clothing, body suits with in built tourniquets, and blast proof eyewear to protect eyes.


Warfare and fire have, and likely always will, go hand in hand. Humanity’s response has typically trended towards preventative measures and it is only in more recent years that first aid and immediate medical care have improved with resultant dramatic decreases in morality and mortality. Preventative measures used in warfare may have some real world applications.


I am currently a Surgical Resident within the Central Adelaide Local Health Network with a keen interest in Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery and Burns Trauma.

Recent Comments