144586 tn?1284669764
Medical Problems - Brush Fires
Decades ago I assisted in fighting a brush fire that encompassed over twelve square miles. It burned for almost three days and almost a hundred homes were lost. Hundreds of ordinary citizens without special training participated in fighting the fire.

Let me provide some observations regarding the medical issues.

One would thing that burns were common, but they were not. Firefighting helmets provide a wide brim in the back to prevent flying embers from going down the back of the neck. These were the primary burn problems with civilians assisting. Wearing leather gloves is a must.

Heat exhaustion was the primary problem with civilian participants. This fire burned for three days. Drinking fluids, especially electrolytes is essential. You would think drinking from a fire hose would be the answer, except the engines were using hard suction to draw from heavily polluted ponds.

Smoke inhalation was the next. There were numerous serious asthmatic attacks among those who lived where there was heavy smoke. Airpacks were not used.

Penetration of the shoes/sneakers by nails was the next problem. Most did not have proper fire-fighting NFPA approved boots. Good leather booths with metal protective soles (such as military boots) are essential.

Ankle injuries (from stepping in holes) were the third. And knee injuries. Again, the importance of watching where you step and having footwear that provides ankle support cannot be over emphasized. Soaking the foot in ice water as soon as possible is helpful. The most important thing is to wrap the ankle (or knee) in elastic bandage BEFORE the swelling takes place. Read the last sentence twice.

There were an extremely large number of asthmatic attacks, especially among children. There was no official call for evacuation, but it simply did not occur to the mommies that heavy smoke from the nearby fire would envelop their community and the kids with asthma problems should have been elsewhere. If there is a brush/forest fire in your neighborhood, and asthmatics in the home they belong elsewhere for the duration. Unfortunately, most do not have prescription  oral prednisone in the home in their first aid kits. If I had asthma and anticipated encountering heavy smoke from a forest fire I would take oral prednisone prophylactically. You won't read this advice anywhere. Certainly 30 mg per 100 pounds of body weight. And I would get a surgical mask to wear while exiting the area. And have albuterol sulfate on hand in the form of an emergency inhaler.

Most all participants "took a feed" and several days later coughed up black soot with their mucus (a LOT)  and coughed constantly. Having an expectorant (from your drug store) available to bring up mucus is helpful. This looked awful but if you are young there appears to be no significant harm. Sore throats are to be expected. A few cough lozenges are helpful. Also to have while fire-fighting.

Many developed eye inflammation. Having an eyewash cup available and some drug-store eye wash is also something nice to have. The eyes should be washed as soon as leaving the fire area.

Carbon monoxide is present in all fires. This colorless gas attaches itself to the oxygen carrying cells because it seems to resemble oxygen. Once a molecule of carbon monoxide binds the cell cannot carry oxygen. The binding is strong and it may not clear for three days. This may result in weakness and headache for firefighting participants. It is a special danger to those with compromised circulatory systems,. COPD patients, and those  with cardiac histories. If someone in your family has such a problem, consider evacuating them when there is heavy smoke, even if there is no fire danger..
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