Guest Post: “Smoke…is it a loaded gun?”

The following is a guest post which was submitted by an ELAFF Local. Hopefully it will not be the last guest post here on If you’d like to submit a post, you can find more info HERE. This post was submitted by Christopher Bullins, who wanted to share some quick thoughts on smoke. As always, feel free to comment and discuss below.


“I just watched the video “Smoke is a Loaded Gun” by Chief Halton of Fire Engineering which is of part of the Fire Smoke Coalition . It got me thinking, do we fully understand and respect smoke, or do we focus more on the fire? I feel we as firefighters focus more on the fire, because that’s where the glory is. Putting the fire out is a great thrill, but we forget what smoke is. What is smoke made of once we break it all down? We put the fire out and the first thing we do is take off our airpacks…we all do it. As we overhaul we breathe in toxic traces of smoke. We fail to pull out the gas meter and test what we may be breathing.

Many have seen Dave Dodson’s “Art of Reading Smoke”. This is an excellent program, which helps teach location, size, and the potential of dangerous fire events. And he does touch on what smoke is, and that it is fuel. So, if it is fuel why do firefighters not treat it as such? Is it poor education in the firehouse or a case of monkey see, monkey do? If you see a senior firefighter or officer overhauling without an airpack and has not tested the air he is breathing, does that make it ok? Smoke is full of different gases and particles, such as carbon monoxide, hydrogen cyanide, benzene, acrolein, carbon soot, and oil droplets to just name a few. This all adds up to us breathing it in and which could lead to toxic blood levels when exposed over long periods of time or due to accumulation over time, or cancer in the long run. We need to be better educating our brothers and sisters in the fire service about poor practices such as overhauling while breathing in remaining toxic air, or just not wearing an airpack at all.

We have firefighters dropping from cyanide toxicity. We teach that with light weight building construction, buildings do not last as long before collapse. We teach new firefighter survival skills, how to fight the fire better and easier with better hose handling or ventilation tactics. But we fail to teach the dangers of the smoke during the fire attack and after the fire is out. During overhaul the fire load is now in the decay phase and is still off gassing. And we are breathing in this smoke, if we know it or not.”

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