Never Too Old for Fire Safety Lessons

According to the National Fire Protection Association, fires kill nearly 4,000 Americans a year, and leave more than 96,000 injured. The major culprit in these deaths is asphyxiation, which occurs because fires use the oxygen in the air and leave behind excess carbon monoxide. This combination results in loss of consciousness, and the victims either die of exposure to deadly air or are unable to free themselves from the fire.

In addition to carbon monoxide, other toxic gases can be present during a fire. Many of the inorganic materials used to make items like furniture, paints and chemicals are extremely lethal when changed by fire into a gaseous form. In years past, this wasn’t as true, because the materials used in the construction of homes and home furnishings tended to be more organic. With the advent of plastics, however, the risk increased. Things such as light switches and tableware can affect the air in a burning room. Compounded with this is the fact that while a generation ago, vinegar or ammonia was used to clean most of the home, today’s cleaners are often combined from chemicals that users can’t even pronounce. Many are also packaged under pressure. Even the protective lacquers covering organic wood tables have new chemical combinations that make them more durable in everyday use, but especially toxic when involved in fires. With all of the dangers presented from smoke, it’s no wonder that 80 percent of those who die in structural fires have been found to have inhaled smoke and toxins first.

Before emergency services arrive, people can help anyone suffering from smoke inhalation by alerting 911, and removing the person from the fire, but only if it is safe to do so. (Remember, in structural fires, a roof or wall can collapse at any time without notice). Remove the victim by turning him on his back and dragging him out of the structure by his arms. Be sure to stay near the floor, as this is where fresh air is most likely to remain. If the victim is not breathing, begin CPR in a safe area and continue to do so until emergency personnel arrive.

Lingering effects from smoke inhalation can range from the need for emergency personnel to open a constricted airway, to spasms, respiratory illness, pneumonia or death. Most experts agree the shorter the amount of time a victim spends in the presence of toxic smoke, the better.

This need for timely escape is the main reason that smoke detectors, with working batteries, are so crucial in homes. Many victims are rendered unconscious from smoke. As many firefighters can attest, victims often lose consciousness without ever waking up when a fire has started during the night, but the loud, piercing squeal of a smoke alarm has allowed countless people to get to safety. Even if the fire occurs during waking hours, the victim will have more time to escape, and will hopefully be less exposed to the deadly air.

Time is of the essence whenever life and death are involved, but never more so than when each breath may increasingly injure the victim.

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