Articles Posted in Carbon Monoxide (CO) Poisoning

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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.”

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Here’s a story that provides a very good lesson for all of us on the need to think about fire safety not just at home, but also when walking around in stores, malls, and other public places.

In early January in Peterborough, Ontario, Canada, four people had to be treated for smoke inhalation after a fire broke out in a store. A clothing shop caught fire at about 8:15 p.m. on a Friday night, and firefighters were called away from a small fire in another neighborhood to fight the shop fire.

On arrival, fire crews found the fire was already extinguished. But even so, there were people in need of medical treatment, so paramedics were called in. Two ambulances and a rapid response vehicle were sent to treat three females who suffered smoke inhalation. They were taken to Peterborough City Hospital for further care.

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Winter is the time of year when home fires are more prevalent, and the Elgin, Illinois Fire Department offers excellent tips on how to stay safe as people try to stay warm in their homes.

“Winter storms can interrupt heating and electric service, and many times people attempt to heat their homes using alternative means, increasing the risk of fire,” said Elgin Fire Chief John Fahy. “What’s more, even cooking or trying to generate additional heat from traditional sources can also increase the risk of fire.”

The United States Fire Administration reports that each winter, more than 108,000 residential building fires occur in the United States, resulting in 945 deaths, 3,825 injuries and about $1.7 billion in property loss.

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In our last blog post, we wrote about five family members who died of smoke inhalation during a house fire in Connecticut. The fire raged so quickly through the wooden house that investigators still do not know if there were smoke alarms in the house that alerted the occupants.

But consider this: if these fire investigators think that people could have died in a fire even though there might have been smoke detectors in the house, how can anyone think that they could escape a fire when they do NOT have working smoke alarms in their house? Smoke inhalation kills people so quickly that even one or two breaths of air contaminated with smoke and carbon monoxide and hydrogen cyanide can render a person unconscious, and cause them to die even if they are rescued before suffering any third degree burns.

Here is just one recent example of such a situation: A woman died from smoke inhalation in Washougal, Washington in large part because the smoke detector in her apartment had been disconnected. The 28-year-old woman’s apartment caught fire not while she was asleep, but right in the middle of the day! And the fire was not very big–it was contained to an upper-floor apartment and did not spread to the lower floor, and was extinguished within a few minutes. But the woman was found unconscious in a bedroom, and there were no other occupants in the apartment. The Clark County Fire Marshal’s Office said a few days later that there was not a working smoke detector in the apartment–it had been disconnected.

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When it comes to extinguishing a fire, there is nothing to say except this: DO NOT try to do it yourself–call the fire department and let them fight the fire when they arrive.

In the event of a fire or a smoke condition, the only concern you should have is getting yourself and others away from the situation so that nobody suffers severe burns or smoke inhalation that can result in death.

You need some proof of how easy it is to become injured or killed by small fires? We have plenty:

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In Fort Peck, Montana in late October, a fire destroyed a historic landmark restaurant in eastern Montana and the owner was hospitalized after suffering smoke inhalation.

Fort Peck’s Gateway Inn Bar and Supper Club, built in 1933, caught fire at about 11:30 a.m. on a Saturday, just as the lunch crowd was coming in. An assistant fire chief said that several customers were in the building at the time, but were able to escape.

A local sheriff also said that the restaurant owner made a near-fatal mistake by running back into the building to get some keys–that’s when he suffered smoke inhalation. Although he was listed in good condition just one day after the fire, the owner’s actions were very risky.

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On October 6, 2011, the Fire Smoke Coalition launched the first Smoke Inhalation Treatment Database for use by EMTs, first responders and medical professionals throughout the world.

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 severe burns–they are cause 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.

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Paramedics in the Buffalo suburb of Tonawanda, NY have a new tool to help them save victims of smoke inhalation.

In late August, the paramedics announced that their ambulances will now carry supplies of the drug Cyanokit, which works to help those suffering from smoke inhalation by counteracting the chemicals in toxic gases and smoke. Other ambulance units around the country will likely do the same thing over time.

Paramedics are calling it a life-saving treatment. “It’s to benefit the citizens of our town and the firefighters who put their lives on the line, should anyone be overcome by smoke and the toxic effects of cyanide that’s in smoke,” said one paramedic.

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Even though barbecues are enclosed units and are used outside, the chance of suffering severe burns from careless use of them is high. The following story is prime evidence of that: According to the Naples Daily News in Florida, a 71-year-old woman was rushed to a Tampa hospital in early May with burns over almost 30 percent of her body after an outdoor grill caused a gas explosion at her home. She was very fortunate, however; by the next day she was recuperating at home.

An emergency call came in around 7 p.m. to the local fire department, and fire engines from the city of Naples Fire/Rescue Department reached the home less than seven minutes later. The responders found the patient seated and covered in wet towels.

A brief fire was caused by the gas explosion, but was out by the time responders arrived. They were able to cut off the gas supply to the grill. The woman was transported as a precaution by ambulance to the Tampa General Hospital Regional Burn Center, with first-degree burns reported on 22 percent of her body, and second-degree burns on five percent of her body, largely to her neck and her face.

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

CO is found in combustion fumes, such as those produced by cars and trucks, small gasoline engines, stoves, lanterns, burning charcoal, burning wood, and gas ranges and heating systems.

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