I am a career firefighter with a combination department. Our department staffs three firehouses during the day during the week. Recently, we were dispatched to a house fire with reported victims trapped. Upon arrival – heavy fire throughout and victims had been accounted for. During the ‘mop-up’ stage of the fire there were approximately 15 personnel operating on the interior of the house. Some were wearing SCBA – none were masked up. During the ensuing interior operation there was a couch cushion in the living room that was allowed to smolder and put up a thick yellow smoke that all commented on its putrid smoke (including myself). After a few minutes of operating inside this burnt out shell I went to this cushion and overhauled it and put it out with a booster line. Problem solved, RIGHT? Wrong. Shortly after my company was released we were dispatched to a second working house fire. In this fire I was the second line operating on Div 2 of the structure. During my time inside this structure I noticed that I was experiencing a sudden onset of respiratory distress accompanied by fits of coughing. After exiting the dwelling I found myself lightheaded and dizzy and on the verge of passing out. Long and short – I was transported to the hospital for smoke inhalation and CO poisoning and there spent the night for O2 therapy.
Bottom line, our department has a standard operating guideline that states during an investigation of a CO alarm crews are to go ‘on-air’ when levels reach 35ppm. During the second job (due in part to what happened to me) levels were recorded in a ‘clear air’ environment at 60ppm! We currently have no standard for salvage and overhaul – particularly when it comes to wearing SCBA.
Lessons learned: regardless of how maucho you think you are after fighting the beast – WEAR YOUR PACK DURING OVERHAUL DUMMY! Your crew wants you to, your lieutenant/captain/chief/ make you, YOUR FAMILY AND LOVED ONES DEMAND IT!!