By Ray McCormack
The toxic twins are more identical than fraternal and, even if you’re married or in a committed relationship, as a firefighter you’ve blind dated them. That’s one of the characteristics of the twins–they get around. They’re named carbon monoxide and cyanide and they love firefighters. Their love is unhealthy, very clingy, and ultimately destructive, so be careful.
Everyone in the fire service has heard of carbon monoxide, which hides among us and is undetectable, despite civilians stating they can smell it. Carbon monoxide (CO) is clingy, attaching itself to your blood cells and cutting off oxygen to your brain–the silent killer. The other prevalent twin, cyanide (CN), has its own a signature smell–bitter almond. While there are many toxins in fire smoke, these two have been singled out as extremely poisonous.
If we understand how certain chemical exposure affects smoke inhalation, then we can better treat its victims, increasing survivability post fire rescue. Although civilians have no protection against toxins, firefighters do. Your self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) foots the bill and covers your short- and long-term exposure to the twins. You must use it; otherwise your dates could cost you dearly. The negative effects of exposure can sometimes be long-term or, at other times, instantaneous. The twins’ behavior doesn’t change; they are part of the poison atmosphere you work in. You cannot predict their impact on you while you’re in the Immediately Dangerous to Life or Health (IDLH) environment or after, except to realize that they are committed to killing you. It’s best to convert your IDLH to I Do Like Health (IDLH) once the date starts by wearing your SCBA.
The fire service realization blinders that smoke kills both over time and in the moment have long been removed. A big problem for many is that not all smoke exposure causes a rapid death; instead many firefighter die years later after repeated mini-dates. Those speed dates start to add up secretly within your body until one day they show themselves, often hiding to a point of no return. You are now sick and can do little about it. Don’t let that future scenario knock on your door. Do something about it now. Cancel all your dates by wearing your SCBA!
There is no lecture needed, no parade of victims, no pledges to sign, none of that. Just the realization that the life you devote yourself to does not own your health. Under that helmet you wear is a brain that needs oxygen to work at peak performance for years to come, so use it to foster better health for yourself. Remember, keep both eyes open when it comes to the twins and you’ll extend your tactical safety for years to come.
Thank you for reading.
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MORE RAY McCORMACK
RAY McCORMACK is a 30-year veteran and a lieutenant with FDNY. He is the publisher and editor of Urban Firefighter Magazine. He delivered the keynote address at FDIC in 2009 and he is on the Editorial Board of Fire Engineering Magazine.