A New Worry is the Same Old Story

By Art Goodrich
Disclaimer: The opinions and statements made in this blog are the author’s. The opinions and statements expressed are not the opinions and statements of anyone affiliated with the Cyanide Poisoning Treatment Coalition, Fire Smoke Coalition or www.firesmoke.org.



What; me worry?

That’s what I thought when I saw the title on the cover of the March issue of Fire Chief Magazine and then I started obsessing about something else to worry about; as if we don’t have enough going on in our lives, communities, fire departments and the world in general.

Now and again; I like to blog on topics that interest me and hopefully, those who read my blogs.

Because I may not be that familiar with the subject matter at times, I will embark on a journey to educate myself, so that the finished product is technically correct. I believe that it is important for that thing we call “credibility”.

When an organization is included in the article, the credibility of the organization and the people who populate it is at stake and naturally, if I am the author of the article, my credibility would be on the line as well.

The first time that I talked to Shawn Longerich, Executive Director for the Cyanide Poisoning Treatment Coalition (CPTC), I was hooked. I knew right then and there that I wanted to advocate for such a worthy cause.

You know; “worthy” doesn’t do justice when describing the CPTC. “Noble”, “dedicated” and “life-saving/life-changing” are better descriptors.

Their board of directors reads like a who’s who of public and private sector champions.

The volume of information that is on the website on behalf of firefighter safety and health is significant.

That smoke in any form is unsafe and unhealthy has been in the public arena for some time. I have been looking into the effects of hydrogen cyanide (HCN) on firefighters since 2007, because we were seeing reports of otherwise healthy firefighters collapsing and dying on the fire ground or within mere hours of responding to a structural fire.

Then, the data from Providence, RI was released that validated suspicions that hydrogen cyanide (HCN) exposure was injuring and killing firefighters. This information has been available since 2007 at www.rifirechiefs.com.

Also, in 2007, the CPTC released a document entitled “Smoke: Perceptions, Myths and Misunderstandings” that goes into great detail on the hazards associated with breathing smoke and especially the carbon monoxide (CO) and hydrogen cyanide (HCN) that is present at fires.

In addition, NIOSH, NIST and the AMA have been collecting data on CO and HCN exposures in both firefighters AND civilians since 2003, when the Station Supper Club in West Warwick, RI caught fire and killed one hundred patrons and injured scores more. High levels of HCN were found in several victims and it is believed that the HCN inhibited the victims’ ability to think clearly enough to safely escape the fire.

So, as you can see, CO and HCN is not “a new worry” as the March issue of Fire Chief Magazine proclaims.

The article “House of Horrors”, has me concerned for many reasons.

First; the description of the Fire Smoke Coalition is shallow. It is more than “firefighters and medical personnel”. There are health and safety professionals, professors, medical doctors, chemists, hazardous substances experts and a vast network of professional resources that supports the Coalition’s mission.

Second; Shawn Longerich was referred to as both a “he” and a “she” in the article. There should be no confusion. Shawn is a very professional and intelligent female.

Third; a hazmat response to a cyanide incident has nothing to do with hydrogen cyanide as a product of combustion at a structural fire. Hazmat had no place in an article on the dangers of HCN in regards to inhalation of particulates that are found at structural fires both in the smoke and away from the smoke.

Fourth; in the same paragraph in the article that mentions hazmat, it also states: “Longerich admitted that there were no specific studies to support her claims about the effect of cyanide exposure on firefighter health”.

This is absolutely absurd and I don’t believe that Shawn admitted to anything. The CPTC, since its inception, has been a “study” in and of itself. Their very existence has been to gather data on anything that affects the health and safety of firefighters and especially where CO and HCN have been identified by health professionals as a clear and present danger to firefighters and civilians alike. As a result, much has been written and released on the proper pre-exposure protections and post-exposure protocols with regards to CO and HCN. I found it disconcerting to see the NFPA 704 sign for cyanide in an article about the presence of hydrogen cyanide that is found at structural fires.

What the fire service HASN’T seen are fatality REPORTS that cites AS THE CAUSE OF DEATH hydrogen cyanide poisoning, because cause of death investigations stop as soon as lethal levels of carbon monoxide are found in the victims’ system. Hydrogen cyanide has been present all along, but if you weren’t looking for it, you won’t know that it was there. Capiche?

Why is it that, if carbon monoxide is present, that hydrogen cyanide will also be present, but at 6 – 10 times greater volumes? Not to mention that hydrogen cyanide is 35 times MORE LETHAL than carbon monoxide!

But, what do you do if someone is exposed to dangerous levels of CO and HCN? Well, you wouldn’t know from reading the article that pre-hospital care including administering hydroxocobalamin would greatly improve mortality. You would use Cyanokit® (hydroxocobalamin) and NOT CAK to treat exposure victims.

And the last thing that bugged me about the article is that the author referred to monitoring for CO and HCN as “chemical monitoring devices”. No; they are GAS monitoring devices. When we are at the scene of a structural fire, we are monitoring the ATMOSPHERE and NOT drums of chemicals. Here is that confusion again. Gas?not chemical. Sheesh!

Yeah, I know; Glenn Bischoff has already released a statement through “Mutual Aid”; the Fire Chief blog on “Command Post”; an E supplement to Fire Chief Magazine. I am a subscriber.

And he said a lot of the right things that should be said after an article fails its intended audience. But, in my opinion, there was almost a “poo poo” undertone because there was more “right” with the article than what was “wrong”. That is the “not fast/not slow but half fast” doctrine being invoked. Once again; I am overwhelmed by our quest for mediocrity. I doubt that many “writers” could write were it not for Google, Wiki-everything and spell check. You know; hurry up and get it done because “I have a life outside of work, dammit”.

Oh and if you want to know what to do with hydrogen cyanide the chemical, you can go to the Emergency Response Guidebook and look up Guides 117, 131, 152 and 154.

Sorry, Fire Chief Magazine. You blew your “credibility" on this one.

Try this on: Smoke is bad. CO and HCN are toxic twins. CO kills the blood. HCN kills the organs. BOTH are present with combustion. SCBA needs to be worn until monitoring determines that the presence of both is minimal. IT’S NOT NEW!

But, you HAVE left me with a new worry.

The opinions and views expressed are those of the article’s author, Art Goodrich, who also writes as ChiefReason. They do not reflect the opinions and views of www.fireengineering.com, Fire Engineering Magazine, PennWell Corporation or his dog, Chopper. All articles by the author are protected by federal copyright and cannot be reproduced in any form without expressed permission.

Devoted to the interests of the firefighters of the country.

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