Wednesday, February 3, 2010

HCN Is NOT A Cable TV Channel!

February is American Heart Month.

That’s it; one month and the shortest one at that?

How can we expect to maintain a sustained effort to reduce heart-related deaths in the fire service if we only pull out the PR campaign once a year?

Besides; we will forget about it as quickly as we forget all of those New Years’ resolutions. You know the ones; going to lose weight, eat healthier, exercise more and trim your nose hair more often.

Doing what I just mentioned is taking some personal responsibility in our battle to reduce LODD heart attacks, but what about some of the triggers that come from outside the body; something like hydrogen cyanide (HCN)?

You should know that HCN is peeking over the shoulder of carbon monoxide (CO) at your structural fires.

Think about it; how many times have you read a post-mortem on a firefighter that says, “Recent physical found patient to be in good condition; no family history of heart disease; death from sudden cardiac arrest”?

If I was a betting man and I am, I would bet that hydrogen cyanide (HCN) got to him while he was inside doing salvage and over-haul and at a time when many of you will shed your SCBAs.

Why would we suspect hydrogen cyanide (HCN)?

For one thing, it’s a sneaky bastard.

It is colorless; it doesn’t always give off an odor and is released when products such as wool, silk, cotton, nylon, plastic, polymers, foam, melamine, polyacrylonitriles and synthetic rubber burns.

So, that “smoke” that you smell most likely contains hydrogen cyanide (HCN).

Plus, hydrogen cyanide (HCN) likes to hang out in enclosed areas. It dissipates very quickly outdoors, but inside, it is less dense than air and will rise, but will remain trapped in rooms.

As you breathe it, it will prevent the cells in the body from using oxygen, killing the cells. Since our heart and our brain use more oxygen than the other organs, they will be more greatly affected. It could cause the brain to become confused and send mixed signals to the heart, causing arrhythmia.

Other signs and symptoms of HCN exposure that should not be ignored are rapid breathing, restlessness, dizziness, weakness, headache, nausea/vomiting and rapid heart rate could give way to convulsions, low blood pressure, slow heart rate, loss of consciousness, lung injury and respiratory failure leading to death.

And were it not for the fact that you are a firefighter, these symptoms might be explained by some other medical reasoning.

And let’s be honest; some of the symptoms that I have described have been experienced by many of us at a fire scene, but ignored, because we figured it was from adrenaline, possibly smokeless tobacco or physical exertion. THAT is why we need to go to rehab and THEY have to be familiar with HCN exposure.

If you don’t think that this gas-a gas that is 35 times more toxic than carbon monoxide (CO)-can kill you, then why was it used in Nazi death camps during World War II?

Yeah; I know THAT got your attention!

Here is the most insidious characteristic of hydrogen cyanide (HCN): you may not suffer any short term effects at the time of exposure, but may develop symptoms after two or three weeks. This leads to the LODD question and the linkage to death due quite possibly to HCN exposure and whether it qualifies.

How many of you have gas detectors that test for hydrogen cyanide (HCN)?

How many of you wear full turnout gear, including SCBAs during ALL interior operations and until they are concluded? Dumpster fires? Vehicle fires? You’d better think about it.

How many departments have a rehab unit that is trained in HCN exposure recognition?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has several articles on hydrogen cyanide (HCN) that are worth your time to read.

One of the best articles out there right now is an article by Richard Rochford entitled “Hydrogen Cyanide: New Concerns for Firefighting”. It is a must read.

Then, click on www.firesmoke.org. Shawn Longerich would love to hear from you.

By recognizing and respecting the dangers of hydrogen cyanide, we may save more lives, including our own.

Being a “smoke eater” is no longer a badge of honor.

TCSS.

Sources:

Hydrogen Cyanide: New Concerns for Firefighting by Richard Rochford

Facts About Cyanide – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

February is American Heart Month – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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1 comment:

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