Fighting fires has always been risky. About 100 firefighters lose their lives in the line of duty each year, but is it any more dangerous than in years past? In a recent article in The Synergist, Dawn Bolstad seems to think so. She says that, in spite of improvements in personal protection equipment (PPE), fighting fires is more dangerous today than in the past.
She writes that improvements in PPE cause firefighters to expose themselves to fires for longer periods of time than they may normally. Also, contents of homes today are more toxic if burnt including many electronics and building materials like oriented strand board, particle board, and injected, expandable foams. While turn out gear offers protection from heat, it does not protect against chemical or particulate exposure, the health risks of which are not fully understood.
The interesting part of the article (and a subject that I’ve written about before) is the danger of hazardous contaminants after a fire is extinguished. She pointed to time when working at the Phoenix fire department when firefighters were only using carbon monoxide detectors to indicate that a site was “safe.” She performed a study to identify contaminants of combustion during the overhaul process and to see if CO was a good indicator gas for these other vapors. They data from the study found that CO will not predict the presence of anything but CO. Some of the contaminants sampled included carcinogens like formaldehyde and toxic irritants such as glutaraldehyde and acrolein. Other compounds included polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons, benzene, toluene, ethyl benzene, xylene, hydro-chloric acid, acetaldehyde, benzaldehyde, isovaleraldehyde, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, and hydrogen cyanide.
To read the whole article
How is your department identifying gases and vapors after a structure fire?
If you are looking for a way to identify these gases and vapors