Firefighters can die in cellars from carbon monoxide accumulation due to incomplete combustion, from oxygen depletion due to flash fires, from drowning in water-filled cellars, from breathing heavier-than-air gases that accumulate there and from flammable gas explosions during fire.
Some cellars are more dangerous than others are. A cellar that's completely below grade without windows is more dangerous than a cellar that's only partially below grade or one that has windows to provide ventilation. Cellars in high-rise buildings do not have windows. Sub-cellars, the most dangerous type of below-grade area, have no windows and are two stories below the street level, directly below the cellar.
A cellar becomes more dangerous after the fire has been extinguished. Smoldering embers generate carbon monoxide. Always ventilate and wear masks during cellar overhaul to prevent death from carbon monoxide inhalation.
Vincent Dunn is a retired FDNY Deputy Chief. For more tactical advice and tips, go to Vincentdunn.com. For lecture information, call 1-800-231-3388.
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