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January 24, 2012

A Free Smoke Detector Program is Born From Smoke Inhalation Deaths Suffered in a Tragic Fire

A family in Clinton, Iowa is teaming up with firefighters around the midwestern U.S. to turn a terrible tragedy into an educational program that will probably save many people from suffering deadly smoke inhalation or severe burns due to house fires.

Four members of the town's Molitor family--two young boys, their mother, and their grandmother--all died of smoke inhalation after a chair caught fire in their Clinton home two years ago. The most heartbreaking aspect is that this was a small fire, which started in a chair. Unfortunately, the burning chair generated a lot of smoke quickly, and the family members who stayed too long in the house (rather than evacuating immediately and calling 911 from outside) were overcome by smoke, fell unconscious, and died. It takes just one or two breaths of smoky air to make a person pass out. In fact, 70 percent of all fire deaths are from smoke inhalation, not burns.

Furthermore, "there was not a smoke detector in the house, and there wasn't even a heat detector," said one family member recently. "There was nothing to alert some of them until it was too late. That is the worst part about it--this tragedy could have been prevented."

But since the fire, the family and the Clinton Fire Department have found a way to use this great loss to help save others. "The best thing we could do was get that information out to the public so it doesn't happen to anyone else," says one local fire official. So the Clinton FD created the "smoke detector project" just days after the fire. They will provide a smoke detector to anyone who needs one, for free--they'll even install it.

In the last two years the Clinton FD has installed more than 2,500 smoke detectors, and their program is now being instituted across the state. Also, Iowa firefighters are working to create a national smoke detector project.

The best part: The local smoke detector project has already saved a number of lives, which makes the Molitor family's terrible loss a little easier to bear. "If one life was saved, that is more than enough for them to use our last name in publicizing the program," said one Molitor family member. "If a thousand lives can be saved, I'll say that my family members' lives were not lost in vain."

Iowa's Smoke Detector Project is organized by fire marshals from around the state. Other states around the country also have free smoke detector programs. For information on obtaining a free smoke detector, call your local fire department or type in the words "free smoke detector" plus the name of your state into www.Google.com.

If you or someone you know suffers an injury such as third degree burns or smoke inhalation, you should call Kramer & Pollack LLP in Mineola, New York so that the personal injury attorneys in that firm can determine whether another party has legal liability for injuries suffered, and if the injured party has a strong legal case.

October 18, 2011

Burn Injuries from Electric and Natural Gas Service in the Home Are Too Common

A few weeks ago in Kinston, NC, a utility worker was injured badly after 7,200 volts of electricity traveled through his body when he came in contact with an underground power wire. The worker, whose name was not released at press time, was working to fix a power outage when the incident happened. He was taken to the burn unit at UNC Hospital in Chapel Hill because he suffered second degree and third degree burns. One city official said the worker has second degree burns to his face and chest, and third degree burns to his arms and legs. The employee is a lineman who's been with the city for 25 years. He was working on an underground primary line in a ditch when he was shocked.

That same week in Lake Katrine, NY, a faulty propane gas line caused a home fire that severely burned an elderly couple. The fire left the unidentified woman hospitalized in critical condition at Jacobi Medical Center in New York City, with burns over 90 percent of her body. The man was taken to Westchester Medical Center in Valhalla with burns on about 40 percent of his body. Neighbors trying to help the couple also suffered burns that required medical treatment.

Officials investigating the fire say it is likely that there was a leak in the line between an outdoor propane tank and the stove inside the home, which caused an explosion.

These two incidents are prime examples of how common elements within a home can be dangerous, and even deadly. Electric and gas service are things we take for granted, but we must never forget to be careful when dealing with them. Exposed wires, loose or ungrounded plug outlets, and plug outlets near water faucets are prime areas where someone can be badly burned--or have their heart stopped-- by electric shock. In fact, more people die from burns received by electric shock, rather than from a heart stoppage.

And anyone who lives in a home that uses propane or natural gas should always be aware of the smell the gas creates--if you can smell it even though it is not being used for cooking or heating at that moment, then you have detected a gas leak, which can cause an explosion from the smallest spark! So if you do smell gas, leave the house right away and call the local fire department to come and inspect the house.

If you or someone you know suffers a burn injury or a smoke inhalation injury, you should call Kramer & Pollack LLP in Mineola, NY so that the personal injury attorneys in that firm can determine whether another party has legal liability for injuries suffered, and if the injured party has a solid legal case.

June 9, 2011

A New Look at the Dangers of Smoke Inhalation


On May 19, the Fire Smoke Coalition sent out a press release saying that it "applauds the Congressional Fire Services Institute's (CFSI) National Advisory Council (NAC) passage of A Resolution to Address a New Epidemic: Smoke Inhalation at its April board meeting." CFSI is a leading non-partisan policy institute designed to educate members of Congress on the needs of our nation's fire and emergency services.

In its resolution, CFSI notes that there is mounting proof, obtained through atmospheric monitoring on fire grounds throughout the U.S., that hydrogen cyanide (HCN) is a predominant toxicant found in fire smoke. The resolution calls for educating the fire service about the dangers of smoke inhalation--including those of HCN--through support of a national education program, the development of HCN poisoning treatment protocols for all local and state emergency medical services (EMS), and efforts by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to establish a national database of smoke inhalation injuries, medical complications and deaths linked to HCN.

To learn even more about the Fire Smoke Coalition and about HCN poisoning, click on this link.

"It's encouraging to see that both fire smoke and hydrogen cyanide poisoning are being recognized by CFSI for the serious and prevalent illnesses they are," said Rob Schnepp, assistant chief of Special Operations for the Alameda County (CA) Fire Department. "As we learn more about the dangers of fire smoke, and pass that information along to firefighters and civilians around the world, we are confident we can reduce the number of people injured and killed by smoke."

In the United States, residential fires are the third leading cause of fatal injury and the fifth most common cause of unintentional injury death, yet the majority of fire-related fatalities are not caused by burns, but by smoke inhalation. Despite the amount of fires in the U.S. decreasing each year, the amount of civilians dying in fires is actually increasing. For example, in 2009, 1,348,500 fires were attended by public fire departments, a decrease of 7.1 percent from the year before; however, 3,010 civilian fire deaths occurred, which is an increase of 9.3 percent.

In fire smoke, hydrogen cyanide can be up to 35 times more toxic than carbon monoxide, an underappreciated risk that can cause severe injury or death within minutes. In a review of major fires over a 19-year period, cyanide was found at toxic-to-lethal levels in the blood of approximately 33 percent to 87 percent of fatalities.

The Fire Smoke Coalition will begin working with various government agencies and medical associations in an effort to reduce the number of smoke inhalation deaths by elevating awareness surrounding hydrogen cyanide as the most deadly toxicant in fire smoke, which is treatable if detected.

"As a country, if we can accept that 30,654 human beings died during a 10-year period, we've become complacent about the illness," said Shawn Longerich, executive director of the Coalition. "That's unacceptable. This resolution raises the bar for all of us to do more and we can by embracing new medical treatment protocols that include consideration for hydrogen cyanide poisoning in fire smoke."

July 26, 2010

Carbon Monoxide Detectors

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless and tasteless gas. It is quite toxic to humans and other oxygen-breathing organisms. Carbon monoxide poisoning happens when enough carbon monoxide is inhaled. (See carbon monoxide poisoning)

Low levels of carbon monoxide are always present in air. It can also be produced from incomplete combustion of flame fueled devices such as fireplaces, furnaces, stoves, vehicles, space heaters and others.

Breathing carbon monoxide fumes decreases the blood's ability to carry oxygen. Low levels of oxygen can lead to cell death, including cells in vital organs such as the brain and heart.

A carbon monoxide detector is a device with an alarm that is designed to detect elevated levels of carbon monoxide, the detectors can be AC powered, battery operated or hardwired. The AC powered unit may have a battery backup. As the weight of CO is almost identical to the weight of normal air, the detector can be installed near the ceiling or on a wall. The detector shouldn't be placed near a fireplace and shouldn't be installed near a smoke detector so that you are able to distinguish between a CO and a smoke detector alarm when there is an emergency situation.

CO detectors should be present in every home and each level needs a separate detector. If you have one CO detector it should be installed near the sleeping area and make sure that the alarm is loud enough so that you can wake up when it sounds.

When the alarm sounds, don't panic, try to stay calm because the alarm is intended to sounds before you experience symptoms. Evacuate the house, gather all the members of household out to a safe area where there is fresh air. Check if anyone is experiencing symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning (see CO poisoning), if yes than call 911. Ventilate the area and identify the source of the carbon monoxide and make sure that your appliances are checked by a professional as soon as possible.

Prevention of CO poisoning:

  • Install a carbon monoxide detector on each floor of your home. Test and replace the detector according to the instructions of the manufacture, check the batteries according to the manufacture instruction.
  • Check the battery once per year.
  • Inspect and properly maintain heating system, chimneys and appliances.
  • Use non electrical space heaters only in well ventilated areas.
  • Don't use a gas oven or stove to heat your house.
  • Don't burn charcoal inside your home, garage, tent or camper.
  • Don't leave cars running inside the garage.
  • If you are using a kerosene heater indoors, make sure there is good ventilation

When buying a CO detector consider the location you want to install the detector in, the power source and the installation ease.

This information is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice; it should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. Call 911 for all medical emergencies.