Smoke kills. Firefighter deaths due to heart attacks may not be due to bad diets, but from exposure to hydrogen cyanide in modern day fire smoke. Firefighters are trained to deal with thousands of hazards and situations on a daily basis. Unfortunately, preventing the avoidable fire SMOKE exposure is not one of the highest training priorities. However, it should be because of the deadly and long term health effects generated by toxins inhaled and absorbed through the skin. By far, one of the most deadly toxins is hydrogen cyanide which affects the heart, brain and thyroid. Nationally, since January 1, six firefighters have literally dropped dead from heart attacks coming off of a shift of smoky fires and at nearly 100 firefighters have been transported or hospitalized for smoke inhalation.
This year the IAFC theme for Safety Stand Down is “Fit for Duty” which includes a variety of extremely important topics relative to health and fitness and also encourages educational programs that build and maintain medically and physically fit personnel to reduce health and fitness-related deaths or injuries. The Safety Stand Down training program developed by the Cyanide Poisoning Treatment Coalition (CPTC) – Wear Your Air, Take a Shower & Wash Your Gear, sponsored by the Terry Farrell Firefighters Fund can reduce health related deaths and injuries if it is used.
As the nation’s leading authority on fire smoke, the CPTC developed this day-long training program to teach firefighters the fundamental facts about hydrogen cyanide in fire smoke, how it impacts the body, how to efficiently use and wear air, and also the importance of removing hydrogen cyanide from their skin and personal protective equipment following every fire or at the very least, at the end of a shift. In a message to firefighters, Kevin Reilly, Ridgewood (NJ) Fire Department and president of the CPTC said, “Firefighting is inherently dangerous. With today’s advancements in technology, training, and the proper use of PPE, we can avoid unnecessary risks. Although acute smoke exposures are important to recognize, chronic exposures are often overlooked and preventable. I encourage all firefighters to use this training program. If you can’t do it during Safety Stand Down, then schedule it as soon as you can.”
“Smoke is something that reaches out and touches a firefighter on a regular basis … for an entire career. It’s critical that all firefighters understand how to protect themselves from acute and chronic smoke exposures, to understand the importance of maintaining their personal protective equipment and to know the hazards of fire smoke. It is my hope that during Safety Stand Down all firefighters will take just a moment to think about why it is so important to wear their air,” said Asst. Chief Rob Schnepp, Alameda County (CA) Fire Department.
According to Lt. Frank Ricci, “When firefighters are wearing SCBA and not utilizing it, the only thing they are doing is hurting their backs. The only way to avoid or prepare for a Mayday is to train and practice under artificial stress and if a mistake is made, recognize it, learn from it and share it. Use this training program in your department and share it with others.”
“In the end, it is our job to teach firefighters how they can prevent avoidable fire smoke exposures. Understanding air is the only line of defense to hydrogen cyanide exposure should be the onlyincentive required to embrace air management protocols. This comprehensive program effectively brings awareness to the need for education and provides the instruction,” said Shawn Longerich, executive director of the CPTC.