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Disclaimer: The opinions and statements made in this blog are the author’s. The opinions and statements expressed are not the opinions and statements of anyone affiliated with the Cyanide Poisoning Treatment Coalition, Fire Smoke Coalition or



What; me worry?


That’s what I thought when I saw the title on the cover of the March issue of Fire Chief Magazine and then I started obsessing about something else to worry about; as if we don’t have enough going on in our lives, communities, fire departments and the world in general.


Now and again; I like to blog on topics that interest me and hopefully, those who read my blogs.


Because I may not be that familiar with the subject matter at times, I will embark on a journey to educate myself, so that the finished product is technically correct. I believe that it is important for that thing we call “credibility”.


When an organization is included in the article, the credibility of the organization and the people who populate it is at stake and naturally, if I am the author of the article, my credibility would be on the line as well.


The first time that I talked to Shawn Longerich, Executive Director for the Cyanide Poisoning Treatment Coalition (CPTC), I was hooked. I knew right then and there that I wanted to advocate for such a worthy cause.


You know; “worthy” doesn’t do justice when describing the CPTC. “Noble”, “dedicated” and “life-saving/life-changing” are better descriptors.


Their board of directors reads like a who’s who of public and private sector champions.


The volume of information that is on the website on behalf of firefighter safety and health is significant.


That smoke in any form is unsafe and unhealthy has been in the public arena for some time. I have been looking into the effects of hydrogen cyanide (HCN) on firefighters since 2007, because we were seeing reports of otherwise healthy firefighters collapsing and dying on the fire ground or within mere hours of responding to a structural fire.


Then, the data from Providence, RI was released that validated suspicions that hydrogen cyanide (HCN) exposure was injuring and killing firefighters. This information has been available since 2007 at


Also, in 2007, the CPTC released a document entitled “Smoke: Perceptions, Myths and Misunderstandings” that goes into great detail on the hazards associated with breathing smoke and especially the carbon monoxide (CO) and hydrogen cyanide (HCN) that is present at fires.


In addition, NIOSH, NIST and the AMA have been collecting data on CO and HCN exposures in both firefighters AND civilians since 2003, when the Station Supper Club in West Warwick, RI caught fire and killed one hundred patrons and injured scores more. High levels of HCN were found in several victims and it is believed that the HCN inhibited the victims’ ability to think clearly enough to safely escape the fire.


So, as you can see, CO and HCN is not “a new worry” as the March issue of Fire Chief Magazine proclaims.


The article “House of Horrors”, has me concerned for many reasons.


First; the description of the Fire Smoke Coalition is shallow. It is more than “firefighters and medical personnel”. There are health and safety professionals, professors, medical doctors, chemists, hazardous substances experts and a vast network of professional resources that supports the Coalition’s mission.


Second; Shawn Longerich was referred to as both a “he” and a “she” in the article. There should be no confusion. Shawn is a very professional and intelligent female.


Third; a hazmat response to a cyanide incident has nothing to do with hydrogen cyanide as a product of combustion at a structural fire. Hazmat had no place in an article on the dangers of HCN in regards to inhalation of particulates that are found at structural fires both in the smoke and away from the smoke.


Fourth; in the same paragraph in the article that mentions hazmat, it also states: “Longerich admitted that there were no specific studies to support her claims about the effect of cyanide exposure on firefighter health”.


This is absolutely absurd and I don’t believe that Shawn admitted to anything. The CPTC, since its inception, has been a “study” in and of itself. Their very existence has been to gather data on anything that affects the health and safety of firefighters and especially where CO and HCN have been identified by health professionals as a clear and present danger to firefighters and civilians alike. As a result, much has been written and released on the proper pre-exposure protections and post-exposure protocols with regards to CO and HCN. I found it disconcerting to see the NFPA 704 sign for cyanide in an article about the presence of hydrogen cyanide that is found at structural fires.


What the fire service HASN’T seen are fatality REPORTS that cites AS THE CAUSE OF DEATH hydrogen cyanide poisoning, because cause of death investigations stop as soon as lethal levels of carbon monoxide are found in the victims’ system. Hydrogen cyanide has been present all along, but if you weren’t looking for it, you won’t know that it was there. Capiche?


Why is it that, if carbon monoxide is present, that hydrogen cyanide will also be present, but at 6 – 10 times greater volumes? Not to mention that hydrogen cyanide is 35 times MORE LETHAL than carbon monoxide!


But, what do you do if someone is exposed to dangerous levels of CO and HCN? Well, you wouldn’t know from reading the article that pre-hospital care including administering hydroxocobalamin would greatly improve mortality. You would use Cyanokit® (hydroxocobalamin) and NOT CAK to treat exposure victims.


And the last thing that bugged me about the article is that the author referred to monitoring for CO and HCN as “chemical monitoring devices”. No; they are GAS monitoring devices. When we are at the scene of a structural fire, we are monitoring the ATMOSPHERE and NOT drums of chemicals. Here is that confusion again. Gas…not chemical. Sheesh!


Yeah, I know; Glenn Bischoff has already released a statement through “Mutual Aid”; the Fire Chief blog on “Command Post”; an E supplement to Fire Chief Magazine. I am a subscriber.


And he said a lot of the right things that should be said after an article fails its intended audience. But, in my opinion, there was almost a “poo poo” undertone because there was more “right” with the article than what was “wrong”. That is the “not fast/not slow but half fast” doctrine being invoked. Once again; I am overwhelmed by our quest for mediocrity. I doubt that many “writers” could write were it not for Google, Wiki-everything and spell check. You know; hurry up and get it done because “I have a life outside of work, dammit”.


Oh and if you want to know what to do with hydrogen cyanide the chemical, you can go to the Emergency Response Guidebook and look up Guides 117, 131, 152 and 154.


Sorry, Fire Chief Magazine. You blew your “credibility" on this one.


Try this on: Smoke is bad. CO and HCN are toxic twins. CO kills the blood. HCN kills the organs. BOTH are present with combustion. SCBA needs to be worn until monitoring determines that the presence of both is minimal. IT’S NOT NEW!


But, you HAVE left me with a new worry.


The opinions and views expressed are those of the article’s author, Art Goodrich, who also writes as ChiefReason. They do not reflect the opinions and views of, Fire Engineering Magazine, PennWell Corporation or his dog, Chopper. All articles by the author are protected by federal copyright and cannot be reproduced in any form without expressed permission.

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Comment by Art "Chief Reason" Goodrich on April 6, 2011 at 2:53pm

Back in the day, when we would get a CO complaint, we would simply contact the utility company and they were more than happy to send someone out with a very expensive looking sniffer. Apparently, they got to looking at the liabilities and felt that they could no longer offer the service to the public, so enter the fire department. In the beginning, we DID look at gas detectors from a dollar standpoint, because we were thrust into it without a budget for it or anything else. We weren't doing any "rescue" outside of vehicle accidents. But now; it's a whole new ballgame with the regs and standards and hazards that firefighters face.

You have to know what you're dealing with and detectors are the only way out.

I know of trustees who look at gas monitors as "wish list" items.

I beg to differ. It is front line defense; every bit as important as the TIC.


Comment by Jason Krusen on April 5, 2011 at 2:04pm

To follow up on Art's comment concerning the smaller department with a multi gas I would ask what are they more likely to run, confined space rescue or a fire? For most people that live outside of Keene, NH the answer is probably a fire.  Replacing the H2S with a HCN is the likely answer, although I too like the single gas.  Don't fall into the 1910.146 trap however.  It says to check for toxicity, nowhere does it say H2S.  If a call is made to a vessel containing Benzene why would you want H2S? You wouldn't. The fire/rescue service has let the meter industry tell us what to carry in our multi gas meters.  The tail is wagging the dog.   I am not advocating dumping all H2S sensor, but merely asking those wishing to utilize their meters to determine the high frequency calls in your district.  Atmospheric monitoring is a newer concept on the fire scene and is not fully utilized.  We typically see meters on suspicious odors, gas calls and confined space calls, so seeing them and using them on the fire ground will take a little getting use to.  The main point is to start using them on the fire ground in any configuration i.e. single gas, multi gas, tubes, etc.


Lastly, is would never go with a meter solely because it is inexpensive.  I am willing to bet most people don't select a heart surgeon based on their cost so why should we trust the air we work in everyday to the cheapest meter.  Choose a meter that meets your needs with features you want that has reliability in its readings.  If it ends up being the most inexpensive, so be it.

Comment by Art "Chief Reason" Goodrich on April 5, 2011 at 12:48pm


Good info.

Ironic, but where you use the H2S sensor on a regular basis, I cannot recall in 30 years one time that we have used it. Hence; my question.

Comment by Fire Chief Billy Greenwood on April 5, 2011 at 12:15pm

Art, well depends on what your target response or district is. We have upwards to 3 or 4 private contractor confined space permit entries a day during the week that are called into the FD. So the H2S is not considered to us, as a sensor we rarely use.


As far as my area (northeast) very few around us use the RAE, My individual department operates a Level A Hazmat Entry Team without the help of mutual aid. The heavy rescue has over 8 different meters, tubes and chem sample papers. The hazardous materials trailer also has a Smiths ID Machine.


As far as using a single gas detector or multigas, we decided on a single gas HCN to be used in concert with a multi gas CGI with CO on the inside of the house post extinguishment to determine air quality (including HCN) for any remaining overhaul, and/or fire investigation team members working inside the building.


Adding a HCN sensor into a 4 gas would take away most likely the H2S for which we use pretty regularly.

Comment by Art "Chief Reason" Goodrich on April 5, 2011 at 11:04am

Also; my link to sensors in an earlier reply wasn't an endorsement. It came up quickly in a google search to give commenters a view.

RAE is good. No argument there.


Comment by Art "Chief Reason" Goodrich on April 5, 2011 at 11:02am

Yeah; I am a fan of "singles", but many small rural departments if they even have them will go with a multi-gas monitor; usually a 4 gas monitor that will typically measure oxygen level, explosive vapors, carbon monoxide and hydrogen sulfide. That last one is a toss up. I mean; how many times do you send someone down a manhole without an SCBA? It IS a location known to produce hydrogen sulfide. Just like the presence of the toxic twins at fires. That they are present; there is no question, but levels and location of gases are certainly important to know.

I guess it begs the question:  if you have a four gas monitor, are TWO of the sensors CO and HCN?

And if you get some single HCN detectors do you purchase for each firefighter or do you get one for each SCBA or do you get a half dozen and have them worn outside the house, since it is a given that inside, if there is fire, HCN and CO will definitely be present?

Comment by Shawn Longerich on April 5, 2011 at 10:43am

Just an FYI, Art, from the National Study we conducted, it seems the vast majority (70%) of the responding departments use RAE meters - Toxi RAE II - single gas for HCN and CO.  In fact, we tested at Tarrant County College during live burns when they measured HCN and CO. Firefighters found them very easy to learn and use.  Cost is about that of a fire helmet.  Just sharing what other departments and firefighters have offered.

Comment by Mike France on April 4, 2011 at 7:10pm
Thanks Bill,  Tim Gaffney here caught my eye here with his blog and when Art posted this i started looking into this. We have a tech that works for KAPL up here and does our meters for us and i will have look at the meter from BW tech. Thanks.
Comment by Fire Chief Billy Greenwood on April 4, 2011 at 6:06pm

Art - I took the HCN class from the Providence guys for which started the whole process betweeen the station nightclub fire and then later their brother who had a HCN induced cardiac arrest post multiple exposure.


Chief France, I have a great program on principles of air monitoring. HCN is a specific sensor and your CO reads only Carbon Monoxide, and your LEL sensor could be methane, propane or pentane specific. That sensor is reading gases that go "boom". Depepndant upon the sensor installed in your meter, you will have to use a (CF) correction factor to get a true accurate LEL reading. That is why all meters alarm at 10% LEL, as the meter does not know the the true gas it is reading so the standard has decided to provide as much pre-warning as possible. This gives us a wider margin of error before we are operating in a true 100% LEL environment or "boom" environment. That class is an eye opener for many.


As far as HCN, I recommend a single gas HCN detector from BW Technologies as it is very inexpensive and a great addition to air monitoring procedures post fire with a CO detector. The CO detector will not read HCN but if you have a 3 gas CGI, which reads O2, CO, and LEL then an educated technician could potentially identify a problem with the air when his readings detect something displacing the O2 reading. Like I said, I would love to discuss the properties of keeping everyone safer if you would like.




Comment by Art "Chief Reason" Goodrich on April 4, 2011 at 1:38pm


You would have to add the sensor to a multi-sensor unit or purchase individual that can be worn by firefighters.

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