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    Compared to 20 years ago, firefighting today is much different. Homes previously built from hardy lumber and furnished with natural fabrics and wood, are now made from petroleum-based fibers along with, plastics and glue. While more affordable and efficient to make, these new materials can be more hazardous.

    “If you were to choose the kind of brain injury you were to incur, it would be better in terms of potential for recovery, to have a stroke or a concussion in a motor vehicle incident than CO poisoning.” -Dr. David Penney, Wayne State University

    Historically, firefighters would go into a burning building with their self-contained breathing apparatus (S.C.B.A.) not connected until the last possible second in order to preserve air. Today, because of the new materials used in home construction, this is no longer an option. Delaying or prematurely removing SCBA masks can create CO toxicity in the blood and can make extremely stressful situations in the heart. Since the heart is pumping the oxygen-deficient blood faster, while depriving the heart muscle of the oxygen needed to perform properly, the potential for a heart attack can arise. Almost half of the on-the-job deaths are caused by heart attacks.

    What do Overhaul and CO have in common:

    • Although frequently ignored, the presence of CO is still guaranteed.
    • CO is formed as a result of incomplete combustion of the materials used to construct the building, and also from the makeup of the contents inside the building.
    • Although the fire may be extinguished, heated fuels are still releasing the same toxic gases during overhaul.
    • Smoke that is released by any type of fire is a mixture of particles and chemicals produced form the incomplete burning of carbon-containing materials.

    Positive and Negative Pressure Ventilation and Carbon Monoxide Levels:

    • The use of a single exhaust fan near the fire source in a building, would be considered a form of negative pressure ventilation. In this process the exhaust fan is taking away air the fire could use to spread.
    • Another method is to “vent” the roof by cutting a hole through the roof above the fire source. This is a less popular method because materials today are less structurally sound, especially under the conditions of extreme heat.
    • Positive pressure ventilation occurs when an exhaust fan is placed in order to force air into eh building, in an effort to clear the smoke out, by means of having a door or window open on the opposite side. This effectively releases the harmful toxins produced by the fire outside and into the atmosphere.
    • Both forms add or remove air depending on the sought-after effect. Either form of ventilation will aid in removing CO form the building.

    Health Effects of Carbon Monoxide

    • All smoke contains Carbon Monoxide, Carbon Dioxide and particulate manner. Inhaling smoke for short time can cause immediate health effects.
    • Smoke irritates the eyes, nose, and throat, and its odor may be nauseating, and can result in damaged lung function. Two of the major agents in smoke that can cause health effects are CO gas and very small particles (PM2.5) that are less than 2.5 microns in size. These miniscule particles can travel deeply into the respiratory tract, reaching the lungs, and can cause respiratory irritation, shortness of breath, and can worsen medical conditions such as asthma and heart disease.
    • The inhalation of Carbon Monoxide decreases the body’s oxygen supply. This can result in headaches, reduced alertness, and can aggravate a heart condition known as angina.

    Treat Every Extinguished Fire Ground as if it is still Active while Overhaul is in Operation. While working on the fire scene, it is important that the CO levels are constantly being monitored. The amount of on-duty deaths each year can be greatly minimized if the proper safety measures are taken. All personnel subject to smoke inhalation should be equipped with a proper CO monitoring device when necessary.

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