Firefighters attend ‘Know Your Smoke’ training

CarolinaFireJournal - By Terri Byers
By Terri Byers
10/05/2012 -

We have all heard the saying “where there is smoke there is fire,” but have you really thought about what is in smoke and what it does to you? On July 20-21, the Fire Smoke Coalition presented two days of training to North and South Carolina firefighters at Catawba Valley Community College in Hickory. Instructors of the seminar were:

  • Battalion Chief Jason Krusen with Columbia Fire Department, SC
  • Paramedic/ Training Officer Robert Marschall from Hillsborough County, Florida


  • Captain Todd Shoebridge with the City of Hickory Fire Department
  • RAE Systems Inc., a leading provider of toxic gas monitoring systems, combined with the Fire Smoke Coalition to deliver the symposium for emergency responders – including firefighters, EMTs and paramedics

Thirty-eight firefighters attended the training, which focused on myths and misunderstandings of smoke, and atmospheric monitoring. Firefighters were also given ideas on air management and survival.

The “Know Your Smoke” training covered invaluable education about the dangerous chronic and acute effects of smoke exposure. During the training session firefighters were instructed on the complexities of the combustion process during which numerous gases and toxicants are produced, most especially Hydrogen Cyanide (HCN) and Carbon Monoxide (CO); how to prevent smoke exposure and how pre-hospital treatment of the smoke inhalation victim must include the consideration for cyanide exposure or poisoning. Firefighters were given valuable education and materials to take back to their departments to save their own and those in their communities.

Instructor Robert Marschall demonstrating Hydroxycobalamin.

Smoke-related Injuries Increase

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.

Deputy Chief George Byers of the Hickory Fire Dept. (pictured center) received the door prize of a meter provided by the RAE Corporation, which in turn was given to Captain Todd Shoebridge (pictured left) to use in his future firefighter safety programs. Pictured right is David Saladin.

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.

“More education is needed regarding the dangers of smoke inhalation and most important — how to treat it as a significant illness. Throughout this country firefighters are dropping dead from heart attacks and cancers in large part due to the toxicants and soot inhaled from fire smoke throughout their careers,” said Shawn Longerich, executive director of the Fire Smoke Coalition. “For civilians it’s even worse and statistics substantiate that fact. We know all smoke inhalation victims cannot be saved. But we also know that if cyanide is not considered as a toxicant in the face of smoke inhalation, and the appropriate cyanide antidote administered, we’ll never know whether that patient could have survived.

“This free training helped equip North Carolina firefighters and first responders with the safety and medical information they need to safely work tactical fire ground operations for self-protection and as important, how to appropriately treat smoke inhalation victims in their communities,” added Longerich.

Barry McLamb, Battalion Chief with Chapel Hill Fire Dept. said, “The training was a good idea and I learned new ideas for decontamination. I am taking the information back to my chief to be considered for policies to make our personnel safer.”

“I loved it and it was great. Looking after ourselves is something firefighters are not good at and this class reminds us to do so,” said Michael Bartch Captain with Fayetteville Fire Department.

Lieutenant Chris Moyer from Burton Fire Department said, “We are bringing this program to Beaufort, S.C. Instructors Jason Krusen, Todd Shoebridge and Robert Marschall did a wonderful job sharing their expertise on this issue.”

Deputy Chief George Byers of the Hickory Fire Department received the door prize of a meter provided by the Rae Corporation, which in turn was given to Captain Todd Shoebridge to use in his future firefighter safety programs.

Learn More, See More

About Fire Smoke Coalition
The Fire Smoke Coalition is comprised of leaders in the fire service. The mission of the Fire Smoke Coalition is to focus the required attention and resources on the deadly and life-long consequences of breathing fire smoke by teaching firefighters and first responders how to Prevent, Protect, Detect, Diagnose, and appropriately treat the exposure if it occurs. Learn more at

Terri Byers is the Fire Education Coordinator for the city of Hickory, N.C. She can be reached at 828-323-7521 or [email protected].
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