When Smoke Gets in Your Eyes
By Ray McCormack
The principle weapon of smoke is obscured vision; Smoke accompanies all fires. We can often tell a lot about a fire by the smoke it produces; Smoke is also our greatest killer on the fireground.
When we arrive, we often see smoke, when we open the door, we often see smoke. Smoke can be angry, lazy, light or heavy and if we follow it back far enough, it will lead to the fire. We will profile the condition it presents us; however, we cannot assume that what we are experiencing at an exit port (entrance) is happening throughout. The great smoke stampede is common at the entry point. We cannot be fooled by smoke and its often dramatic exit from the building: that it has torn through the occupancy like a tornado leaving nothing savable behind.
Our first impressions are not always lasting as we check its tenacity and heat level. We get below its blinding swirl and start our search for the fire and its survivors. We are in the smoke now watching it lift as ventilation works its magic, it will not be around forever as we work it remove it. If it does not vacate the building properly, it can gain intensity and become even more destructive. Now it’s a race between smoke removal through ventilation and locating survivors though search and rescue.
Once we open the door we have started ventilation. This ventilation works in two ways on the high end: it releases smoke and at the lower levels it allows fresh air to enter. These two levels are not an even split. The drama of the exit port will tell us about what we might expect inside; however, we cannot get too far ahead of ourselves. Under average fire conditions, this single exit port will be the only ventilation until a window is vented or the roof opened. Smoke exiting the building is only natural and often this initial opening is not based on distance from the fire, but to safeguard egress.
“They died from (smoke inhalation),” is what we often hear; smoke is the first killer on the fireground. That is why ventilation and timely searches and fire extinguishment are so important to survival for those inside. If fire conditions allow us entry, we can provide fire service to the victims. People have been found alive under punishing conditions and after long periods of incapacitation, just as people have been overcome quickly and died.
Survivability on the fireground is not always up to the fire’s discretion. It is often dependent upon what we bring to the table. If we had no effect on the outcome of fires in our communities, not only would cutting us make sense, it would the right thing to do. Why bother to support a service that provides only containment and not rescue. Our work environment contains smoke and people who need rescue; smoke obscurity is not an excuse to abandon our mission, it is just a part of the job.
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