Dryer Vents & Fire

According to the National Fire Protection Association, this common household appliance was the cause of more than 15,500 U.S. home fires in 2010.  Lint and other debris can build up in your dryer hose and vent duct, reducing air flow, backing up exhaust gases and eventually creating a fire. These hazards can be avoided by thoroughly inspecting and cleaning your dryer vent every year. (This is particularly true if your dryer vent duct was not designed or installed properly.) Not only are you reducing the risk of fire, you’re also putting money back into your wallet by improving the dryer’s efficiency.

Here’s a checklist which may help you know if your dryer vent needs cleaning or replacing:

1. Drying time for clothes takes longer and longer.
When a dryer vent is clogged, the drying cycle can double or triple in time. You’ll notice that clothes are not completely dry at the end of a regular cycle. A dryer is designed to push out the hot moist air for clothing to dry. If your vent is blocked by lint, the air will stay in your dryer keeping your clothes hot and moist. And when it takes twice as long to dry clothes, your dryer runs longer, putting more wear and tear on it and therefore cutting the machine’s life in half.

2. Your clothing and the outside of the dryer are very hot.
Do you notice that your clothing is very hot at the end of a cycle or the dryer is hot to touch? This warning sign means the vent is not exhausting properly. If your system is clogged, it not only wastes energy, but can cause the heating element and blower in the dryer to wear out faster.

3. You notice a burning smell.
When you run your dryer do you smell a burning odor? Lint, which is very flammable, can build up in the exhaust tube, lint trap and even in the drum casing. If it gets too hot, it can catch on fire, causing a burning smell. (Remember to empty the lint trap often). Discontinue use of your dryer and have it inspected as soon as possible.

4. The vent hood flap doesn’t open properly.
Another visual red flag that you’re due for a cleaning: You can see lint or debris around the dryer hose or outside vent opening: or the duct hood flap does not open as it is designed to do. An outside vent that doesn’t open when the dryer is running means air flow has been restricted due to lint buildup.

5. It’s been longer than a year since your last inspection.
Dryer vent ducts should be inspected at least once a year to reduce the risk of fires and carbon monoxide poisoning. If you hire a professional to clean your vent, expect to pay between $75 to $150, depending on the length and location of the vent. If the exterior exhaust vent is easily accessible, you can try cleaning it yourself with a brush kit.

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Exposure to Smoke From Fires – Part 2

Inhaling carbon monoxide decreases the body’s oxygen supply. This can cause headaches, reduce alertness, and aggravate a heart condition known as angina. Fine particles are able to travel deeply into the respiratory tract, reaching the lungs. Inhaling fine particles can cause a variety of health effects, including respiratory irritation and shortness of breath, and can worsen medical conditions such as asthma and heart disease. During increased physical exertion, cardiovascular effects can be worsened by exposure to carbon monoxide and particulate matter. Once exposure stops, symptoms from inhaling carbon monoxide or fine particles generally diminish, but may last for a couple of days.

Avoiding smoky situations is the best way to avoid exposure. If your age or health status places you at greater risk from smoke exposure you should speak with your doctor about alternative steps you can take when encountering smoky situations. Anyone with persisting or frequent symptoms that they think are associated with smoke exposure should see their health care provider. Additional information on carbon monoxide and fine particles can be found at the web addresses listed at the end of this fact sheet.

There is also the potential for chronic health effects from exposure to the components of smoke. Long term exposure to ambient air containing fine particles has been associated with increases in cardiovascular disease and mortality in populations living in areas with higher fine particulate air pollution. Frequent exposure to smoke for brief periods may also cause long-term health effects. Firefighters, who are exposed frequently to smoke, have been examined for long-term health effects (for example, cancer, lung disease, and cardiovascular disease) of repeated smoke exposures. The findings from these studies are not consistent or conclusive. Some studies show an increased frequency of these diseases among firefighters compared to similar male reference populations (e.g., male policemen, white males in the general population), while others do not.

 

The Day After A Fire

Many people are lucky enough to never have gone through the devastating loss of a fire in their home.  But for those who have, these images are difficult to ever forget.  Here’s a set of photos displaying a home the day after the fire was extinguished, and a look at the severe damage it caused.  Please note, that all animals and residents were evacuated safely.  20151115_085912 20151115_085918 20151115_085926 20151115_085933 20151115_085941 20151115_085952

Smoke Detectors

A properly installed and maintained smoke alarm is the first thing in your home that can alert you and your family to a fire 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Home fire sprinklers can also alert you, but are a few seconds slower than smoke alarms. Whether you’re awake or asleep, a working smoke alarm is constantly on alert, scanning the air for fire and smoke.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, almost two-thirds of home fire deaths resulted from fires in properties without working smoke alarms. A working smoke alarm significantly increases your chances of surviving a deadly home fire.

What Powers A Smoke Detector?

Smoke alarms are powered by battery or by your home’s electrical system. If the smoke alarm is powered by battery, it runs on either a disposable 9-volt battery or a non-replaceable 10-year lithium (“long-life”) battery. Alarms that get power from your home’s electrical system, or “hardwired,” usually have a back-up battery that will need to be replaced once a year.

Simple Smoke Detector Placement

  • Put smoke alarms on every floor of your home. Also, in every bedroom and in the hallway outside of each sleeping area.
  • Choose smoke alarms that communicate with each other, so that if one alarm sounds they all will.
  • Place smoke alarms on the ceiling or high on the wall. Check the manufacturer’s instructions for the best place for your alarm.
  • Only qualified electricians should install hardwired smoke alarms.

Maintenance

Is your smoke alarm still working? A smoke alarm with a dead or missing battery is the same as having no smoke alarm at all.

A smoke alarm only works when it is properly installed and regularly maintained. Maintain your smoke alarms according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Below are some general maintenance tips.

9 Volt Battery

  • Test the alarm monthly.
  • Replace the batteries at least once every year.
  • Replace the entire smoke alarm every 10 years.

10 Year Lithium

  • Test the alarm monthly.
  • Since you cannot (and should not) replace the lithium battery, replace the entire smoke alarm according to the manufacturer’s instructions.  

Hardwired

  • Test the alarm monthly.
  • Replace the backup battery at least once every year.
  • Replace the entire smoke alarm every 10 years.

What To Do When Your Detector Goes Off While Cooking

Never disable a smoke alarm while cooking! If a smoke alarm sounds while you’re cooking or taking a shower with lots of steam, do not remove the battery. You should:

  • Open a window or door and press the “hush” button.
  • Wave a towel at the alarm to clear the air.
  • Move the entire alarm several feet away from the kitchen or bathroom.

Disabling a smoke alarm or removing the battery can be a deadly mistake.

For More Information, visit our website at Biowashing.com

Smoke Inhalation – Part 1

The number one cause of death related to fires is smoke inhalation. An estimated 50-80% of fire deaths are the result of smoke inhalation injuries rather than burns.  Smoke inhalation occurs when you breathe in the products of combustion during a fire. Combustion results from the rapid breakdown of a substance by heat (more commonly called burning). Smoke is a mixture of heated particles and gases. It is impossible to predict the exact composition of smoke produced by a fire. The products being burned, the temperature of the fire, and the amount of oxygen available to the fire all make a difference in the type of smoke produced.

Smoke inhalation damages the body by simple asphyxiation (lack of oxygen), chemical irritation, chemical asphyxiation, or a combination of these.

  • Simple asphyxiants
    • Combustion can simply use up the oxygen near the fire and lead to death when there is no oxygen for a person to breathe.
    • Smoke itself can contain products that do not cause direct harm to a person, but they take up the space that is needed for oxygen. Carbon dioxide acts in this way.
  • Irritant compounds
    • Combustion can result in the formation of chemicals that cause direct injury when they contact the skin and mucous membranes.
    • These substances disrupt the normal lining of the respiratory tract. This disruption can potentially cause swelling, airway collapse, and respiratory distress.
    • Examples of chemical irritants found in smoke include sulfur dioxide, ammonia, hydrogen chloride, and chlorine.
  • Chemical asphyxiants
    • A fire can produce compounds that do damage by interfering with the body’s oxygen use at a cellular level.
    • Carbon monoxide, hydrogen cyanide, and hydrogen sulfide are all examples of chemicals produced in fires that interfere with the use of oxygen by the cell during the production of energy.
    • If either the delivery of oxygen or the use of oxygen is inhibited, cells will die.
    • Carbon monoxide poisoning has been found to be the leading cause of death in smoke inhalation.

Smoke Inhalation Symptoms

Numerous signs and symptoms of smoke inhalation may develop. Symptoms may include cough, shortness of breath, hoarseness, headache, and acute mental status changes.

Signs such as soot in the airway passages or changes in skin color may be useful in determining the degree of injury.

  • Cough
    • When the mucous membranes of the respiratory tract get irritated, they secrete more mucus.
    • Bronchospasm and increased mucus production lead to reflex coughing.
    • The mucus may be either clear or black depending on the degree of burned particles deposited in the lungs and trachea.
  • Shortness of breath
    • This may be caused by direct injury to the respiratory tract, leading to decreased oxygen delivery to the blood, the decreased ability of blood to carry oxygen because of chemicals in smoke, or the inability of the body’s cells to use oxygen.
    • The patient may have rapid breathing as they attempt to compensate for these injuries.
  • Hoarseness or noisy breathing
    • This may be a sign that fluids are collecting in the upper airway and may cause a blockage.
    • Irritant chemicals may cause vocal cord spasm, swelling, and constriction of the upper airways.
  • Eyes: Eyes may be red and irritated by the smoke, and there may be burns on the corneas in the eyes.
  • Skin color: Skin color may range from pale to bluish to cherry red.
  • Soot
    • Soot in the nostrils or throat may give a clue as to the degree of smoke inhalation.
    • The nostrils and nasal passages may be swollen.
  • Headache
    • In all fires, people are exposed to various quantities of carbon monoxide.
    • The patient may have no respiratory problems, but may still have inhaled carbon monoxide.
    • Headache, nausea, confusion and vomiting are symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning.
  • Changes in mental status
    • Chemical asphyxiants and low levels of oxygen can lead to mental status changes.
    • Confusion, fainting, seizures, and coma are all potential complications following smoke inhalation.

When To Seek Immediate Care.

If the smoke inhalation victim has no signs or symptoms, home observation may be appropriate. If in doubt, call the doctor or go to the local emergency department for advice.

Seek medical attention if the patient experiences the following symptoms with smoke inhalation:

  • Hoarse voice
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Prolonged coughing spells
  • Mental confusion

Decide whether to call an ambulance for assistance.

  • Someone with smoke inhalation can get worse quickly.
  • If such a person were transported by private vehicle, significant injury or death could occur on the way that could have been avoided if that person were transported by emergency medical services.

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Smoke Inhalation – Part 2

Exams & X-Rays

A number of tests and procedures may be performed. Which tests are performed depends on the severity of the signs and symptoms and is at the discretion of the doctor.

  • Chest X-ray
    • If the patient has respiratory complaints such as persistent cough and shortness of breath, a chest X-ray should be done.
    • The initial chest X-ray may be normal despite significant signs and symptoms.
    • A repeat chest X-ray may be necessary during the observation period to determine if delayed lung injury is occurring.
  • Pulse oximetry
    • A light probe is typically attached to the finger, toe, or earlobe, to determine the amount of oxygen in the blood.
    • Pulse oximetry may be inaccurate if the patient has low blood pressure, and enough blood is not getting to parts of the body where the probe is attached.
  • Blood tests
    • Complete blood count: This test is done to determine if there are enough red blood cells to carry oxygen, enough white blood cells to fight infection, and enough platelets to ensure clotting can occur.
    • Chemistries (also called basic metabolic profile): This test reveals any changes of pH in the blood that may happen because of interference with oxygen diffusion, transport, or use. Serum electrolytes (sodium, potassium, and chloride) can also be monitored. Renal (kidney) function tests (creatinine and blood urea nitrogen) are also monitored.
    • Arterial blood gas: For people with significant respiratory distress, acute mental status changes, or shock, an arterial blood gas may be obtained. This test may help the doctor to determine the degree of oxygen shortage.
    • Carboxyhemoglobin and methemoglobin levels: These levels should be measured in all smoke inhalation victims with respiratory distress, altered mental status, low blood pressure, seizures, fainting, and blood pH changes. It is now routinely done in many hospitals whenever arterial blood gas is assessed.

Self Care At Home

Remove the person with smoke inhalation from the scene to a location with clean air.

Make sure that you are not putting yourself in danger before you attempt to pull someone from a smoke-filled environment. If you would be taking a serious risk to help the person, wait for trained professionals to arrive at the scene.

If necessary, CPR should be initiated by trained bystanders until emergency medical help arrives.

Medical Treatment

A number of treatments may be given for smoke inhalation.

  • Oxygen
    • Oxygen is the mainstay of treatment.
    • Oxygen may be applied with a nose tube, mask, or through a tube down the throat.
    • If the patient has signs and symptoms of upper airway problems (hoarseness), they will most likely be intubated. The doctor places a tube down the throat to keep the airway from closing due to swelling.
    • If the patient has respiratory distress or mental status changes, they may also be intubated to enable the staff help with breathing, to suction mucus, and keep the patient from choking on secretions.
  • Bronchoscopy
    • Bronchoscopy is procedure performed through a small scope to directly look at the degree of damage done to the airways and to allow for suctioning of secretions and debris.
    • Usually bronchoscopy is done through an endotracheal tube after the patient receives adequate sedation and pain relievers.
    • Bronchoscopy may be necessary if the patient has increasing respiratory failure, fails to demonstrate clinical improvement, or a segment of the lung remains collapsed.
  • Hyperbaric oxygenation (HBO)
    • If the patient has carbon monoxide poisoning, hyperbaric oxygenation may be considered.
    • Hyperbaric oxygenation is a treatment in which the patient is given oxygen in a compression chamber.
    • Some studies have demonstrated that hyperbaric oxygenation causes a reduction in symptoms of the nervous system, and if the patient has carbon monoxide poisoning, it may make recovery quicker.
    • The indications for and availability of this treatment vary depending on the institution and the region in which the patient is hospitalized.

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Smoke Inhalation – Part 3

Follow Up

Once the patient leaves the hospital, follow-up care is typically arranged. The patient should return immediately to the emergency department if they feel that their condition is worsening after discharge from the hospital.

  • Medications may be prescribed, such as various inhalers and pain medications.
  • The patient may notice shortness of breath with minimal exertion.
  • It may take time for the lungs to fully heal, and some people may have scarring and shortness of breath for the rest of their lives. Avoid triggering factors, such as cigarette smoke.
  • Persistent hoarseness of the voice may occur in people who have sustained burn or smoke inhalation injuries or both. Early attention to these problems, many of which are treatable surgically or behaviorally or both, could lead to an improved voice.

Prevention

Prevention is key when discussing smoke inhalation. Numerous prevention strategies can be employed to avoid exposure to smoke.

  • Smoke detectors should be placed in every room of occupied buildings. This should ensure early detection of smoke to allow plenty of time for evacuation.
  • Carbon monoxide detectors should be placed in locations at risk for carbon monoxide exposure (such as from malfunctioning furnaces, gas water heaters, kerosene space heaters, propane heaters and stoves, gasoline or diesel generators, and boats with a gasoline engine).
  • Escape routes and plans for how to escape should be worked out prior to the onset of a fire and reviewed often.
  • Numbers for the police, fire department, and your local poison control center should be kept in a visible place in the event of an emergency. Find your poison control center now by checking the Web site of the American Association ofPoison Control Centers.

This concludes our four part blog on Smoke Inhalation.  For more, visit our website at Biowashing.com