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February 22, 2012

Smoke Inhalation Injury From Burning Garbage Pits: Does U.S. Government Have Legal Liability?

Rather than creating traditional landfills, U.S. military personnel have burned tons of trash and human waste while stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan. But some veterans now believe that their present health problems are the result of breathing in the polluted fumes and smoke that came from those burn pits.

Legislation filed in November in the U.S. Congress would direct the Department of Veterans Affairs to create a registry for veterans who might have been exposed to these burn pits during the wars involving the U.S. between 2001 and 2011. The database would allow the government to collect information on the number of veterans exposed to the burn pits and the types of health problems they are suffering. However, it doesn't direct the government to provide any particular type of benefits to those veterans.

"Is there a really consistent pattern of a problem, of is it more a coincidence?" said one member of Congress. "We've seen anecdotally what appears to be some pretty weird symptoms that just turned up from nowhere" among soldiers stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The VA website states that toxins in smoke like carbon monoxide and hydrogen cyanide could affect the skin, eyes, kidneys, liver and the nervous, cardiovascular and reproductive systems. But it also says that research has not shown to this point long-term adverse health effects from exposure to burn pits.

The VA previously had asked the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences to review existing literature on the potential health effects of exposure to burn pits in military settings. A report released in early November by the institute focused on a burn pit used to dispose of waste at Joint Base Balad in Iraq, which burned up to 200 tons of waste per day in 2007.The report found that the levels of most pollutants at the base were not higher than levels measured at other polluted sites worldwide, but it said there was insufficient evidence to draw firm conclusions about any long-term health effects that might be seen in service members exposed to burn pits.

The legislation would require the VA to commission an independent, scientific study to recommend the most effective means of addressing the medical needs that are likely to result from exposure to open burn pits. To create and maintain the database could cost about $2 million over five years.

For people not in the military, here's the lesson from this story: Any type of smoke inhalation can be damaging to several systems in the body, to the point that you might never fully recover--and it might result in premature death. So whenever a person suffers smoke inhalation, they should be given professional medical help immediately to flush the lungs of smoke (which contains not just carbon monoxide and hydrogen cyanide, but many other poisons too)--even if the person feels fine!

Many times, injury and pain and suffering from smoke inhalation does not appear until hours or days later--but by then it is too late to repair the damage done to the human body. So don't take a chance--if someone suffers any smoke inhalation, get them professional medical help immediately.

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.

December 1, 2011

Group Home and Nursing Home Fires Are Common--Is Your Relative Safe From Severe Burns and Smoke Inhalation?

On October 31 in the Chicago suburbs, a fire at a residential mental health facility early in the morning forced the evacuation of about 400 residents to a village community center, officials said.

A mattress fire, probably caused by cigarette smoking, broke out about 1 a.m. on the sixth floor of the Lydia Healthcare Center, a long-term care center in the south suburb of Robbins, Illinois. The building had to be closed because the fire sprinkler system was activated and the building then had to be cleaned. Most of the damage to the building was caused by smoke and water.

Three residents and one employee were taken to a local hospital to be treated for smoke inhalation, but none of the injuries were life-threatening. A representative of the American Red Cross of Greater Chicago said they were providing blankets and food for the displaced residents, and that they would be able to go back to the group home within a day or two.

This incident should be a lesson not only for those who live in group homes or nursing homes, but also for the families of people who live in such facilities.

Before a person is placed in a nursing home or group home, the family should make sure that:

--Fire exits are not blocked or locked
--There are fire extinguishers in several spots on each floor
--The sprinkler system on each floor is working and is also inspected regularly
--The facility staff is trained in proper evacuation procedures for residents.

Each of these tips can help save residents from a fast-moving fire or smoke condition that could cause confusion among residents and and then trap them, exposing them to the possibility of severe burns and deadly smoke inhalation.

If you or someone you know does suffer a severe burn injury or a smoke inhalation injury, 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 solid legal case.

November 29, 2011

Beware of Unusual Sources of Fire; also, Baby Saved from Deadly Smoke Inhalation

In Clear Spring, Maryland a few weeks back, an electrical malfunction in a stereo speaker caused a fire that sent a woman to the hospital to be treated for smoke inhalation. The woman was taken to Meritus Medical Center east of Hagerstown.

Authorities said the fire started at 5:46 a.m., when a stereo speaker on a living room shelf in the two-story home caught fire. The fire caused several hundred dollars in damages to the home and its contents. But even with so little damage, the fire required 15 firefighters from the towns of Clear Spring, Halfway, Maugansville, and Williamsport to hose down the house for five minutes to bring the fire under control.

Most importantly, a smoke alarm alerted the occupants of the fire. Without smoke detectors, the fire could have filled the house with hydrogen cyanide-laden smoke so quickly that the occupants would not have gotten out alive--and all because of a stereo speaker malfunction. Remember this story, so that you will make sure to check the batteries in the smoke alarms in your house.

In another story that was very close to being tragic, the New York Fire department saved the life of two adults and a baby after responding to an apartment fire in Brooklyn on Thanksgiving. The New York Daily News captured an amazing photo of Firefighter Andrew Hartshorne carrying the baby from the wreckage of the fire. Firefighter Neil Malone then gave the infant mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, furiously pumping the eight-month-old baby's chest and forcing air into his mouth, while praying the limp little boy would take a breath on his own. After five agonizing minutes where the firefighters were starting to give up hope, the baby finally coughed and began breathing on his own.

"I knew I was working against the clock -- every second is crucial," said Malone. "The baby was unresponsive, he had no pulse. It was about five minutes and thirty seconds that the baby was left without air. It didn't look good. But it's like a song to your ears when you hear that baby get its breath on its own."

The child's pulse returned, but he remained in critical condition the day after the Thanksgiving blaze. "The smoke has affected his lungs. He's still in danger," said the baby's father. The baby was heavily sedated and receiving intensive care at New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center.

The child also suffered burns on much of his body, in addition to requiring an oxygen mask and breathing tube. The possibility of brain damage exists, but doctors will not know if any damage occurred for several days. "We are praying there was no oxygen deprivation" that causes brain injury, one family member said.

Fire Department investigators believe the fast-moving fire was ignited by a cigarette that touched a mattress. The fire tore through the third floor of the building, forcing one man to leap from a window to a second-floor ledge. The flames then blocked the brownstone's exits, trapping the terrified family inside.

"It was an inferno," Malone recalled. "I've seen a lot of fires in my 28 years [with the FDNY] but I've never seen this scope of devastation." Firefighters fought their way through the flames to get the adults out, and then find the baby on the floor. "The baby was covered in soot," said Malone. "To find him in all of that debris is just amazing."

"I'm not a hero, I'm just doing my job," Malone said when asked about it. "It was the best Thanksgiving I ever had."

If you or someone you know does suffer a severe burn injury or a smoke inhalation injury, 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 solid legal case.

October 4, 2011

Smoke Detectors Save Lives, but Too Many Homes Don't Have Them

In late September in the small town of Greenville, NC, a popular local restaurant owner died during a fire inside his house in the middle of the night. The man's two dogs also died in the fire. Unfortunately, it does not seem that this incident had to end up this way--smoke detectors just might have saved the man's life.

Derek Oliviero was just 27 years old--young enough to be able to run from the house and avoid severe burns if he had become aware of the fire. But he died of smoke inhalation when his home stared burning because a faulty electrical outlet in the kitchen malfunctioned while he was asleep. Firefighter found the man in the house around 3 a.m. but he was unresponsive. They tried to revive him, but their efforts failed.

Neighbors witnessed the incident. "It took a long time to get him out of the house. It was really scary," said one of them.

Here is another recent story that shows just how important smoke detectors are for saving lives when fire breaks out while people are asleep. In Fort Edward, NY, a family of four was able to escape without serious harm after their home caught fire early on a Sunday morning in early October.

Two members of the family suffered only minor smoke inhalation as they fled from the house at 12:30 a.m. The local fire chief said that two parents and two young children lived in the home, and that the father was awakened by a smoke detector. He then alerted the rest of the family after discovering a fire on the first floor.

The family climbed out a second-story window onto a porch roof, and then jumped from the roof to the ground as the fire quickly spread. "The smoke alarms saved their lives," the chief said. "When we got there, fire was coming out all of the windows."

The chief said the incident served as a good reminder for people to check their smoke detectors as the heating season begins. "They're alive because of the smoke alarms," he said.

Lastly, keep in mind that smoke detectors should be in more places than just the home. Here's an example why: In late September, eleven elementary-school-aged children suffered smoke inhalation on a school bus outside Boston.

Boston police said that a possible engine malfunction caused smoke to build inside the school bus. All were reported to have minor injury from the smoke inhalation, and they were transported to local hospitals as a precaution.

In such a case, there might be legal liability on the part of the owners of the bus because of the injuries suffered by the children. Smoke inhalation can happen very quickly, and is dangerous because of the poison gases contained in the smoke. Even 5 or 10 seconds of inhaling smoke might require hyperbaric oxygen therapy to force fresh oxygen into the lungs and save the patient from death.

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

March 29, 2011

The Clothes Dryer: A Frequent Source of Fire and Severe Burns

I was watching TV the other day when, believe it or not, a commercial caught my attention. (It seems that everyone else has a digital recording device, so they can skip the commercials. But I was glad that day that I don't have DVR, or I would not have seen this informative commercial.)

Anyway, the commercial was for an insurance company that offers coverage for the home. In it, the actors stand in front of a giant ball of lint--the type of lint that comes from washing and drying your clothes--and then one of the actors lights the ball on fire. The ball, which was larger than the actors, becomes engulfed in flames almost instantly. Then one of the actors says, "Did you know that 15,000 fires start in clothes dryers each year?" That's a pretty big number.

But as I thought about that a bit more, that number became even more terrifying. Why? Because most of the time, a clothes dryer is turned on and left alone for 45 minutes or more, until its timer runs out on its own. So that means that there are thousands of times each year where people go to sleep, or are doing things on the other side of their home, when the dryer is running. And if people are not diligent about cleaning out the lint trap frequently, it is very easy for the dryer to catch fire. What's more, the lint and the clothes inside the machine will go up in flames in an instant, and possibly engulf the room and the rest of the house before the occupants know what is happening.

So the way to prevent a clothes dryer from causing fire--and prevent possible third-degree burns and smoke inhalation that can kill--is to clean the lint trap every time you use a clothes dryer. Also, never overfill a clothes dryer so that the unit and the clothes inside cannot overheat. Lastly, it would be smart to place a smoke detector on the ceiling near the clothes dryer so that if it does catch fire, the people in the building receive plenty of warning and can get out of the building.

March 8, 2011

Smoke Alarms Can Prevent Death from Third-Degree Burns or Smoke Inhalation

Two deadly fires in the past week are perfect examples of why working smoke detectors are literally life-saving items that every home or apartment should have.

First, a fire in a high-rise apartment building in Philadelphia left two firefighters hospitalized, one in serious condition. The fire department responded to the early-morning blaze at an 18-story Philadelphia Housing Authority building and cleared scores of residents out. Smoke and flames poured from windows on the building's eighth floor before the fire was doused.

The American Red Cross of Southeastern Pennsylvania helped about 150 residents with shelter, clothing, and food. The good news is that the worst outcome for any of the tenants was damage to their apartments and property--but nobody suffered bad smoke inhalation or third-degree burns.

But if the fire department did not arrive so quickly, this situation could have been an absolute disaster. Because smoke and heat rise, the people who lived on the ten floors above the eighth-floor fire were in mortal danger. The possibility of rapid, deadly smoke inhalation is much greater on floors located above a fire--a tall building acts like a chimney would on a fireplace, funneling the smoke upwards! And after just a few seconds of breathing in smoke, people succumb to the poisonous elements and they pass out, and just moments later could be dead, even if the fire is still far away from them.

So the point is this: People who live in apartments should always make sure that the superintendent regularly checks the smoke and fire alarms in the hallways to make sure they are working. Also, inside each apartment there should be at least one smoke detector as well as a carbon-monoxide detector. And if you notice a fire on a floor below you, get to a stairwell that is away from the source of the fire and get down those stairs. It is this simple: If you get below the fire, you probably live. If you get trapped above the fire, you likely die.

Remember, smoke detectors help so much because it's not just what goes on in your apartment that you have to worry about--it is also the actions of your surrounding neighbors that can affect your health and safety.

In a second tragic fire this week--this one in a neighborhood outside Dallas--six young adults were killed in a fire at a mobile home shortly after a birthday celebration that lasted into the early-morning hours.

The blaze broke out at about 5:30 a.m. in a manufactured home. Three people escaped from the burning home. A neighbor called 911 after a woman ran to the door begging for help. One of those who escaped, 18-year-old Cody Rubalcaba, said he was able to help some of his other friends out of the home, but the blaze then became too strong. "When they told me that six were dead, I started bawling. I tried to save as many as I could, and I couldn't even get the other six out."

Rubalcaba said he and friends had gone to bed after partying, but he awoke early Monday morning coughing and seeing flames coming from the master bedroom. He broke a window, cutting his arm, and crawled out to safety. He then tried to go back in to save his friends. "I was like, 'Follow my voice, there is a window I busted open, go underneath the pool table and I will be right here waiting for you,'" he said.

He was able to help get two friends out safely, but said he couldn't help the others. "I called for their names, but no one would respond back to me," Rubalcaba said. "All you could hear were flames burning."

"It's just a shock to see a house totally engulfed," said neighborhood resident Paul Woods. "Especially when the people are still inside. There's nothing you can do; literally nothing. The flames are pouring out and here's no way you can get anywhere close to the house."

Shirley Culberhouse, who lives about seven houses down the street from the home that burned, told The Associated Press that it "was a group of boys who had moved in, and they were having a party." Another neighbor, auto mechanic Michael Brennan, said the party woke him up. "About 2:15 a.m., the noise woke me up," he said. "There was shouting. Then there were cars pulling out, and I was sort of waiting for the sheriff to show up when the fire happened."

In this case, if the homeowner--whose daughter was having the party without the homeowner present--had working smoke detectors in the home, it is quite possible that more of the victims could have gotten out of the house before it was too late.

So please take these two examples to heart, and make sure your smoke detectors are working in your home.

February 3, 2011

Smoke Inhalation from Unusual Fire Sources

In a blog post about ten days back, I talked about the need to check your home for potential fire hazards on a regular basis. Red flags that come to mind right away are extension cords on carpets, space heaters too close to furniture or clothing, and candles left to burn for too long at a time.

Of course, almost immediately after posting that blog, I see an example of a fire hazard that most of us would never have thought of: lint in the clothes dryer. On January 26, two residents of Rochester, NY had to go to the hospital and receive oxygen therapy quickly to stave off potentially fatal effects of smoke inhalation--even though they were involved in what the local fire department considered a minor house fire, and had suffered no second- or third-degree burns.

Just after 7 a.m. that day, the clothes dryer caught fire in the basement of the house, probably because its lint trap was overly full. Although the residents noticed the smoke and left the house to call for help, and it took firefighters just 15 minutes to control the fire (which was contained to the basement) the two people told emergency responders that they did not feel well and were taken to the hospital as a precaution. Because smoke rises, the entire house sustained damage from the smoke. What's more, there were no working smoke detectors inside the house, though local firefighters installed detectors in the house right after the fire, as a courtesy. But if the fire started while the residents were asleep, the lack of smoke detectors could have produced a tragic outcome.

Here's another unusual situation, but one that car owners should always remember. In New York City this past week, several cars have caught fire because of the cold weather. Huh? Well, it seems that as people try to maneuver their cars out of snowy parking spaces, the tires often start to spin. But if the driver keeps a foot on the gas pedal and spins a tire for too long, the tire can heat up and catch fire, and set the entire car ablaze! In fact, this happened right in my own neighborhood earlier this week--I witnessed the fire myself. And if the driver was not aware that his tire had caught fire and ignited the trunk of his car, he could have been overcome by smoke inhalation and died right in the car in seconds.


January 25, 2011

Smoke Detectors / Smoke Alarms Prevent Deadly Smoke Inhalation--if They're Working

In one of my posts last week, I mentioned a fatal fire that started because an extension cord had shorted out and set fire to clothes that were laying on top of it. This is a very preventable type of fire--but it can be prevented only when people living in a house or apartment practice good fire safety. The best way to do this: Take two minutes every day to check around your house or apartment for situations that could start a fire, or cause a fire to spread, or block the escape path to a door or window.

Besides this, there is another very simple precaution that people can take. And even though this precaution cannot prevent a fire, it can do something even more important: it can prevent a fire from trapping victims and inflicting terrible third-degree burns and poisonous smoke inhalation. What is that precaution? Installing a minimum of one smoke detector on the ceiling of each level of the house, preferably in the hallway near the bedrooms. It is advisable to put a smoke detector in each bedroom as well.

Sure enough, the blaze that was started by the shorted-out extension cord, which killed a mother and her three children who were asleep at the time, took place in a home that did not have a smoke alarm. So even though the fire began in the living room, in an electrical outlet that was also being used to power a stereo system, a computer, and other appliances, the lack of a smoke detector meant there was too little time to escape once family members woke up and realized there was a fire. The fire had engulfed much of the first floor and created dark, choking smoke that rose up and filled the rooms of the second floor before any of the sleeping victims had a chance to escape. And believe it or not, many victims who die of smoke inhalation are not even awakened by the smell of smoke. Smoke can poison your lungs and cause unconsciousness so quickly that there is no time to wake up!

So if you own your home, it takes less than $20 to buy a battery-operated smoke detector and about ten minutes to install one. And if you rent your house or apartment, make sure to ask the landlord to install smoke alarms in your apartment. One last thing to remember: It is the tenant's responsibility to check the battery in each smoke detector every few months to make sure it is working, and to REPLACE the battery once a year. If you don't do this, the smoke detector might be of no use in keeping your family safe!

To read reviews on many types of smoke detectors, click here. Lastly, anyone who cannot afford a smoke alarm can contact their local fire department to see if they will install one for free. In Philadelphia, for instance, residents can sign up to get a free smoke detector by visiting www.FreedomFromFire.com.

June 7, 2010

Smoke Detectors

Fire claims the lives of many people each year and destroys properties and belongings. Smoke detectors play a big role in preventing fires. They are devices that detect smoke or other combustion products and when they sense them an alarm will sound alerting people for the danger of fire.

There are two types of smoke detectors:

Ionization smoke detectors: this device detects smoke particles emitted from fire whether they are visible or invisible. Smoke changes the electric current which triggers the start of the alarm.

Photoelectric smoke detector: this device detects large particles of smoke, when smoke is sensed, there is a light bulb in the device that reflects the smoke to a photocell, this photocell will be activated leading to the alarm sounding.

There are devices that have both ionization and photoelectric properties. Some work on batteries other work on electrical current; there are types that work on both.

Smoke detectors should be installed outside each sleeping area on each floor level; smoke detectors should also be installed near living areas such as the living room and family rooms and also in the basement. When the smoke detector is installed test it by pressing the test button which will check the function of the smoke detector. Smoke detectors should be kept away from places that may lead to false alarms such as wooden stoves and fireplaces. In addition the alarm can sound from other things such as dust and fresh paint fumes.

Smoke detectors should be checked regularly and batteries should be replaced at least once a year and cleaned once a year.

You should also have an escape plan and you should practice the plan. Be familiar with the alarm sound and if you hear the alarm sound try to find the nearest exit by crawling on your hands and knees to a safe place. Stop, drop and roll if your clothes catch fire and avoid running. Call the fire department and don't try to return back to the burning building.

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.