Fire experts: Reasons to protect yourself from environmental pollution during an incident visit


Fires are a danger too often underestimated by those who have not had to face them.

First of all in terms of their number: Statistics in 57 countries between 1993 and 2016 show that there were between 2.5 and 4.5 million fires per year.

Secondly for the number of direct victims: between 21,000 and 62,000 deaths annually over the same period.

Finally, on the toxicity of combustion residues from fires and the number of illnesses they cause to those exposed. For the substances in question may be carcinogenic, reprotoxic, mutagenic and/or endocrine disrupting.

What happens after a house fire?

The insurance company sends an expert to assess the damage.

Depending on the size of the claim, the insurance or policyholder's experts spend more or less time in the area affected by the fire.

They then mandate a professional to carry out decontamination work before having the renovation undertaken.

I can't wear respiratory protection during my visits because the occupants would be afraid

Even if the visit lasts only a few minutes, the fire expert should protect himself from exposure to the pollution generated by the fire.

What is the nature of the pollution produced during a fire?

During a fire, the temperature can rise up to 1000°C. At this temperature, most materials in a home or office burn.

The smoke and soot produced during the combustion of materials is extremely toxic because it is loaded with gases, fine and ultra-fine dust particles and combustion products.

Among the gases formed we will find carbon monoxide (CO), carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrogen oxides (NOX) and sulphur oxides (SOX) as well as a large number of volatile organic compounds (VOC).

For VOCs, aromatic hydrocarbons such as benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylenes are very common combustion products.

Aldehydes, alcohols and carboxylic acids may also be formed. Some combustion products are semi-volatile organic compounds (SVOCs).

That is, they are volatile at high temperatures and condense on soot and dust particles when the temperature drops. This is the case of PAHs (Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons) which are the main markers of combustion of materials.

ALL chemicals produced in a fire are highly toxic.

The very high toxicity of these substances is now recognized by national and international health authorities.

Soot, benzene (VOC) and benzo(a)pyrene (PAH) are substances classified as proven human carcinogens (Group 1 of the WHO classification). For this reason, exposure to these substances, even at low doses, must be considered with the utmost seriousness.

After several days, the pollution level of a fire remains very high. Even if some rooms in a building have been spared by the fire, the pollution levels in the rooms adjacent to the disaster area are also high.

How to protect oneself from pollution while visiting the burned premises?

Spending even a few minutes without respiratory protection in such a polluted environment results in acute exposure to a very large quantity of a highly toxic mixture of products.

Fire experts make several visits a day and expose themselves to this pollution on multiple occasions. Under these conditions, the health risks are real and it is essential to wear protection throughout the entire duration of the intervention.

Every day, we absorb about 1 kg of food, 2 kg of water and between 12 and 15 kg of air. Inhalation therefore represents more than 80% of the material absorbed by humans. Therefore, protection of the respiratory tract is the priority.

Respiratory protection can be provided by a mask equipped with a high efficiency particulate filter (HEPA) capable of retaining fine particles and VOCs and if possible an activated carbon filter to trap aromatic VOCs.

Due to the very high level of pollution, the fire expert must wear a protective mask for the entire duration of his visit

Pollution after a fire is large enough to settle on clothing and shoe soles.

It will be transported and contaminate the fire expert's daily environment: his car, his workplace and his home.

Chronic exposure to these toxic substances also presents significant health risks.

These precautions are essential to effectively guard against the health effects of fire pollution.

It is recommended to wear single-use work clothes, overboots and gloves to limit the spread of pollution in one's daily environment

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