Hendricks County Flyer, Avon, IN

April 8, 2014

Firefighters converge on Wayne Township for day of training

By Steven Penn steven.penn@flyergroup.com
Westside Flyer

---- — On Saturday, the Fire Smoke Coalition presented a full day of training to firefighters from around the state in an effort to teach about the dangerous toxins in smoke.

The training took place from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. at the Wayne Township Fire Department, located at 700 N. High School Road, in Indianapolis.

Shawn Longerich, executive director of the Fire Smoke Coalition, said the coalition provides this type of training around the world.

“The Fire Smoke Coalition … we are really the epicenter of training on the topic of fire smoke,” she said. “We do it nationally and internationally. It’s all about the awareness of smoke, prevention and protection, and diagnosis and treatment. The reason we do it is that firefighters are dropping dead like flies.”

What’s putting firefighters at risk, Longerich said, is hydrogen cyanide, which is found in the type of smoke emitted by many household objects that burn in fires.

According to information from the coalition, the presence of the toxin in smoke causes firefighter cancer, cardiac related illness and deaths, neurological problems and other chronic health problems. Even worse, the problems are increasing, making the need for proper training even more necessary.

The Wayne Township Fire Department found out firsthand what being exposed to the toxins for too long can do, as the department lost one of its own: Firefighter/engineer Don Hochstetler. Hochstetler succumbed to cancer Nov. 13 of last year.

His cancer was directly related to his firefighting duties and earlier this year, was approved for an on-duty illness.

Longerich said there’s two parts to the training.

“It’s about protecting the firefighters, increasing their awareness, and preventing their death and suffering,” she said. “Then for civilians, it’s about educating the firefighters and EMS personnel about appropriate treatment for civilians.”

Longerich explained there are antidotes available for people suffering from smoke inhalation.

“That’s all about reducing smoke inhalation deaths by helping people understand and accept that hydrogen cyanide is the culprit in smoke that will kill a civilian before the flames ever get started,” she said. “Proper treatment with antidotal therapy (is possible). If you know cyanide is present you use an antidote … it has been life-saving for many people throughout the United States.”

Longerich said, firefighters from 32 departments across the state took part in the training on Saturday, which was divided into classroom work and practical sessions outside at the Wayne Township Fire Department’s training facility.

At the training facility, she said firefighters simulated burns in a Flashover Chamber to get readings on the toxin levels.

“They were burning small amounts of household products,” she said. “They had some foam, some carpet, and carpet padding … everyday household items.”

Firefighters also got rehab training.

In many cases, firefighters, they should have rehab after every big fire that they’ve gone through two tanks,” Longerich said. “They have to get out of their gear and they have to be rehabbed. That’s really a place where we can identify if a firefighter has been exposed. They went through a practical session in the Flashover Chamber and then we had a rehab practical session where they actually were observed in a rehab area and were given instructions on how to set one up and how to set it up outside of a dangerous smoky environment.”

Longerich said Wayne Township offers a perfect facility for this type of training.

“We use this because they have a wonderful training facility,” she said. “What we do is we find a regional location and then we promote it regionally. It’s free training, so fire departments that are struggling with training budgets, it doesn’t cost them a thing to come here.”

For more information, visit the Coalition’s website at www.firesmoke.org.