Toxicology of Smoke Inhalation

Issue 8 and Volume 162.

BY GILL HALL In the spring of 2003, two firefighters from a large western city were critically exposed to smoke within a few weeks. One died; the other survived. Both were in peak physical condition, well trained, and very experienced. Both were rescued after becoming unconscious while making an initial attack in a single-family residential fire. Both were found with their masks on and air in their tanks. What caused them to become unconscious? Why were they unable to call for help? Inhalation of toxic smoke is the primary cause of death from fires. It is a major cause of firefighter death. Smoke inhalation causes acute life-threatening injuries and results in long-term lung and neurological damage. Many toxic products are released during a typical room-and-contents fire. A multitude of variables make it difficult to predict what toxins will be produced. As a result, most information is from animal and autopsy…

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