By Brett Gillin
Can you guess what the leading cause of death is when an indoor fire occurs? The answer is not the heat or the flames, but the smoke. Smoke inhalation is, in fact, the primary cause of death when a fire starts in doors. For a long time, experts blamed these deaths almost exclusively on the amount of carbon monoxide that is expelled during a fire, but studies are beginning to show that there’s another culprit that often is the culprit. Cyanide poisoning. In fact, even when people survive the initial “smoke inhalation” and are transported to the hospital, they still face a great risk of dying from the amount of cyanide that has crept into their system. Thanks to a technology called the Cyanokit, these death could quickly become a thing of the past.
According to this article on CBS DFW, firefighters in Arlington Texas have begun using the Cyanokit directly at the scene of the fires they are extinguishing, and the results are very positive. The article goes on to explain the case of a wheelchair-bound man named Willy George, who called 9-1-1 to report a fire. While he was on the phone with dispatchers, he eventually lost consciousness. When firefighters arrived, they found Willy George and carried him out of the burning home.
Willy George had passed out from smoke inhalation. Normally, the procedure would be to get him started on an oxygen tank and get him to the hospital, hoping he regained consciousness sooner rather than later. But Arlington firefighter Chris Holland had a different idea. He told CBS “Once we got him outside, we laid him down and he was unconscious and unresponsive.”
So Holland grabbed a Cyanokit from his truck and administered it to Willy George.
The Cyanokit is an IV kit filled with chemicals that convert cyanide into vitamin B. When someone has inhaled so much smoke that they pass out, the levels of cyanide in their system can be deadly, and kits like this will save countless lives. In the case of Willy George, it certainly did. After Holland administered the kit, Willy George was awake, conscious, and responsive just minutes later.
According to the Arlington Fire Department, this technology has already been used three times this year, each time the patient survived the massive smoke inhalation that had rendered them unconscious. Cyanide renders the body unable to properly use oxygen, so when that is combined with the other effects of smoke inhalation, it’s a recipe for disaster. So long as our first responders and EMS workers are provided with technologies like the Cyanokit, patients will have a much greater chance of surviving massive smoke inhalation.