Firefighters Learn How To Guard Against Smoke

November 17, 2015

WINCHESTER — Dozens of firefighters both from local departments and out-of-state companies learned Thursday about the dangers of smoke and how to better protect themselves in the line of duty.

Rob Schnepp, one of the instructors for “Know Your Smoke: The Dangers of Fire Smoke” seminar, is the special operations chief for Alameda County (Calif.) Fire Department and vice president of the Indianapolis-based nonprofit organization Fire Smoke Coalition.

A firefighter for 26 years, Schnepp said he became interested in learning more about smoke and the problems it causes for firefighters beginning about a decade ago.

“I’ve always been curious why firefighters feel bad after fires, myself included,” he said before the first of two sessions on the day. “I got passionate about it, educated myself about it and we started [the Fire Smoke Coalition] to go around the world and teach other firefighters.”

Schnepp added that he’s found a lack of understanding among some firefighters as to just how bad smoke can be for their health.

“I think there’s kind of a perception that smoke is just a part of our job, a thing we get exposed to on a regular basis but don’t really understand it as the long- and short-term health hazard it is,” Schnepp said.

Apart from carbon monoxide, smoke can contain hydrogen cyanide, formaldehyde and chlorine and sulfur compounds, according to Schnepp.

Some of the short-term health effects of smoke inhalation range from headaches and disorientation to unconsciousness and cardiac arrest. Long-term effects can include damage to the central nervous system resulting in afflictions like Parkinson’s disease, cardiac problems and cancer from carcinogens in the smoke.

Self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) units can significantly decrease a firefighter’s exposure to smoke. However, Schnepp said, firefighters don’t always wear their gear when they should.

“The key message to the fire service is that there’s a way to put a barrier between you and the smoke, and that’s your personal protective equipment (PPE), including your SCBA,” he said.

Frederick County Fire and Rescue Deputy Chief Larry Oliver said before the morning session that the department has been planning the seminar since May.

“It’s all about firefighter safety and trying to make sure people go home at the end of their shift and not having to worry about another line-of-duty death,” he said.

The seminar included lectures in the morning at the Frederick County Public Safety Building on Coverstone Drive and an afternoon field session at the Winchester-Frederick County Regional Fire Training Center on Woodstock Lane.


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