I have been a firefighter for over 28 years and have encountered many respiratory hazards and risks when responding to calls while on-duty.
One of the major respiratory hazards that firefighters encounter is when they have to enter into a structural fire filled with smoke and toxic gases.
Oxygen deficiency is the number one factor firefighters face if trapped inside a burning structure filled with smoke and toxic gases because of the combustion process that requires oxygen to fuel the fire removing large amounts of oxygen from the air within the structure causing a firefighters’ lungs to inhale smoke and toxic gases and eventually causing death.
Elevated temperatures in a structure fire will also cause firefighters to have difficulty breathing and creates a respiratory hazard for the firefighter.
Temperatures in a structure can exceed temperatures of over 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit and if a firefighter inhales the super-heated air it will cause intense burns to the respiratory tract and can lead to cardiovascular collapse and death.
Smoke from a fire inside a structure also has a major effect in the lungs if a firefighter was to inhale smoke into his or her lungs.
Fire inside a structure puts off smoke and the smoke from a fire usually contains nitrogen, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, carbon particles, oxygen, and a variety of materials that float through the air while the fire depletes all the oxygen within the structure.
Toxic particles can enter a firefighters body in three ways and they are by inhalation, absorption through the skin, and by ingestion into the digestive tract.
Two of the respiratory hazards that firefighters encounter are tar particles and oil droplets that cause damage inside the throat and the entire respiratory tract causing difficulty breathing and possibly resulting in death.
Toxic gases such as carbon dioxide or carbon monoxide has a potent effect after they enter a firefighters body by inhalation, absorption through the skin, or by ingestion into the digestive tract, these toxic gases can and could cause permanent damage to the respiratory tract and to other parts of the human body and could result in death.