Smoke Intoxication

One of the main villains during a fire event is the smoke and it actually kills more than the fire itself.

There are many effects on the human body caused by smoke inhalation. The reason is that smoke contains hundreds of toxic elements (gases, particles and chemicals) that can affect human health. Some effects of exposure or inhalation of smoke are short-term while others may have a long-term result. See below some examples:

Short-term effects are the ones that happen and seconds and minutes, which means the person would feel these effects during the evacuation from the fire. Some examples are:

  • Reduced speed of movement

  • Mental Confusion

  • Poor choices made about the escape route

  • Poor vision

  • Heat or Radiation Injury (other than from direct flames)

  • Sensory irritation (lungs, eyes, nose, etc.)

Long-term effects are the ones that would affect a person after the evacuation, which can take hours, days, or even years. See below some examples:

  • Serious long-term illness or death

  • Heart Attack

  • Cancer

  • Serious illnesses such as emphysema, asthma, or other chronic lung diseases

  • Long-lasting health problems or physiological responses in the human body


The composition of the smoke is also an important fact for the consequences it can cause. The most dangerous substances in smokes are:

  • Soot particles,

  • Halogen Acids (e.g. hydrogen chloride) – the irritant effect is more potent but can also cause lethal effects

  • Organic Irritants (e.g. formaldehyde) – irritate eyes, nose, throat.

  • Carbon Dioxide (CO2) – Breathing influence. Inhaling CO2 increases the rate of breathing, which increases the uptake of asphyxiant gases.

  • Carbon Monoxide (CO) – prevents oxygen from being carried with the blood. It can develop from gas, oil, coal and wood. It is colourless, tasteless, odourless, non-corrosive and highly poisonous.

  • Hydrogen cyanide (HCN) – influences breathing, causes tissue hypoxia and prevents oxygen metabolism in the mitochondrion

  • Low Oxygen (O2) – depending on how low the oxygen level is it can be challenging to work. On an even lower dose, it can increase heart rate and respiration, cause dulled senses, slow mental process down and even causes unconsciousness or death.

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