This is comprehensive presentation covers fire smoke. Modern day fire smoke and its toxicants are largely responsible for cardiac-related deaths and disease, which are attacking firefighters like the plague. To effectively function on the fireground–as a means of preventing or limiting exposure–firefighters must be armed with new information and a greater understanding of fire smoke. This smoke symposium delivered a new awareness about smoke, current and new research about toxicants contained in smoke, suggested protocols to meter and monitor air quality, how to prevent the exposure by understanding personal air consumption, air management, tactical considerations and protective actions, and the truth about a fire department plagued with thyroid cancer and disease linked to cyanide exposure.
One company which has established a leadership role in the industry via sponsorship of The Smoke Symposium is RAE Systems. “The big reason we sponsor this is the similarities between how our company was started and monitoring for different toxins people were unaware of” says Ryan Watson, vice president, America, Canada and Latin America Sales. “Carbon monoxide and hydrogen cyanide, the toxic twins, are nothing new, but there is starting to be a lot of research done, and as the components of smoke have changed, it’s more prevalent now. We’re finding out that things in smoke from these different plastics and resins and all these different materials are bad for you. And so that’s how we partnered with the Smoke Coalition. Because it’s certainly something we have to educate everybody in what they’re doing.”
RAE also demonstrated some of their products outside the Smoke Symposium. It’s newest product is the ToxiRAE Pro, which, according to Watson, is the first single-gas wireless gas detector. “They’ll be able to transmit wirelessly to a safety officer,” he says. Also on display were the ToxiRAE II, a product used in much of the research that has been done about the toxic twins of carbon monoxide (CO) and hydrogen cyanide (HCN). There are and CO and HCN versions of each detector.
The fire service is aware of the HCN issues, but according to Watson, a lot of education remains to be done. “That’s kind of why we’re getting involved,” he says. “We really pride ourselves in educationg the industry on these things that are out there.”
What many firefighters don’t realize, according to Watson, is that you do not have to have a huge fire to have high HCN levels. “Usually it’s a pan on a stove and the rubber handle burns. And you wouldn’t believe how much HCN is in there. So that would probably be my biggest takeaway: the size of the fire doesn’t matter. It depends on the material that burns.”
Almaeda County (CA) Fire Department Assistant Chief Rob Schnepp’s “Smoke Symposium” workshop took an all-inclusive look at the issues of fire smoke and smoke inhalation. Attendees learned about the components of fire smoke and why it’s hazardous to firefighters and civilians, focusing on the “toxic twins” of smoke—cyanide and carbon monoxide. Schnepp also discussed the signs and symptoms of smoke inhalation present in the field as well as the different antidotes available to treat smoke inhalation victims, including hydroxocobalamin. He explained smoke exposure prevention by using and understanding a firefighter’s main line of defense against smoke—the self-contained breathing apparatus.
Schnepp also welcomed several guest speakers to the floor, including New Haven (CT) Fire Department Lieutenant Frank Ricci, North Las Vegas (NV) Assistant Chief Bruce Evans, and Emergency Training Solutions Onsite Training Director Chris Pepler.
The speakers provided cyanide data and information that showed it as a toxic and deadly component of smoke, with Ricci presenting several training videos addressing the issue. Schnepp took the floor once more to talk about fireground air management and smoke prevention methods. According to Schnepp, “Many departments throughout the United States are finally adopting guidelines and protocols relative to metering, monitoring, and treating cyanide exposure but, comparatively speaking, many is few.”
“Hopefully,” Schnepp continued, “attendees came away with a newfound appreciation of the dangers of fire smoke and of ways to prevent acute exposures and debilitating long-term health effects.”
Additional information on this topic can be found in Schnepp’s article, “Decon Technology from the Military,” which appeared in the December 2009 issue of Fire Engineering.