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Sponsored by:
The Rehab Training Center
by Jeffrey Lindsey
Sponsored by Masimo

Why firefighters need to train for cyanide poisoning

Whether cyanide is the 'flavor of the month' or not, it is still a deadly toxin that's prevalent on firegrounds

By Jeffrey Lindsey

Cyanide was one of the most discussed topics in the fire service a few years back. The Cyanokit made its debut in the United States and departments across this country were buzzing about the dangers of cyanide and the benefits of carrying a cyanide antidote kit on their units.

Is the buzz still there, and if not, why?

Capt. Rick Rochford from Jacksonville (Fla.) Fire Rescue attended one of my sessions on cyanide in 2008 at the Fire Rescue East conference. Three years later I found myself sitting in his session at the same conference listening to him talk about cyanide.

Capt. Rochford took the information from my session at the conference and ran with it. You see, I was there as part of a speaker's bureau educating the participants on the toxicity of cyanide. Three years later he was there to speak about the experiences of cyanide.

Alarming data
During the three years between, Capt. Rochford went to every fire in Jacksonville and measured the levels of toxins in the air. His readings were off the chart at entrances to the buildings that were on fire. On top of that, he did measurement readings around the firegound and detected high levels of toxins, including cyanide at the pump panel where the engineer/operator worked without any SCBA or respiratory protection.

So what does all this have to do with rehab training?

First, as an educator or trainer, you may think your sessions go unheeded. Do folks really pay attention to what you are telling them? So often we walk away from a training session wondering if anything got through to the participants.

The simple answer is yes. More gets through than you think. You need to keep to the path of educating and reinforcing.

Second, teaching on a subject one time does not cut it. You need to go back and review and update on the topic. The dangers change, especially ones you do nothing about.

Staying on topic
Training on rehab topics is important. As noted, many times we have our hot topics and then seem to move on to the next hot topic when there is relevance to go back to previous topics. Cyanide was not just a hot topic in 2008, rather it remains a hot topic today. We just don't put the emphasis on the topic like we should.

Third, cyanide is still a dangerous and deadly toxin. Maybe it is time you dust off the cobwebs and do a training session on cyanide. Break out the gas meters and measure not only by the building that is on fire, but check the levels around the fireground. It has not been a popular topic but engineer/operators may need to be on air while functioning at the pump panel.

Without putting action behind our training and training behind our actions, things will not change for the better.

Last, consider the location of rehab. Be sure to measure the gas toxic levels in the rehab section. Locating the rehab site too close or downwind may have negative impacts on the effectiveness of the rehab sector.

Even if the buzz fades, cyanide remains toxic and personnel should take the appropriate actions to prevent cyanide poisoning to their personnel. 

About the author

Dr. Lindsey is the coordinator/lecturer for the University of Florida Fire and Emergency Service bachelor and master degree program. He also serves as the chief learning officer for Health Safety Institute. He retired from the fire service as fire chief of Estero (Fla.) Fire Rescue. Additionally, he is an author for Brady Publishing. Dr. Lindsey earned his doctorate and masterís degree in curriculum and instruction from USF. He holds a bachelorís degree in fire and safety engineering from the University of Cincinnati, and an associate in paramedic from Harrisburg Area Community College. He also has earned his chief fire officer designation and is a graduate of the Executive Fire Officer Program. Dr. Lindsey has over 32 years of diverse experience in the emergency services industry. He was the 2011 recipient of the James O Page Leadership Award from IAFC. He is an associate member of the Prehospital Research Forum. He served as an advisory council member for the National EMS Advisory Council and the State of Florida EMS Advisory Council, and is a representative to the Fire and Emergency Services Higher Education EMS degree committee. You can contact Jeffrey with feedback at

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Jamie Mccoy Jamie Mccoy Thursday, February 20, 2014 5:32:26 PM This is good to know
Harry F Tata Jr. Harry F Tata Jr. Sunday, February 23, 2014 8:17:33 AM just one question how many firefighters a year die from cyanide poisoning???
A.j. Shippee A.j. Shippee Sunday, February 23, 2014 8:28:23 AM Started with a dr looking at the guys in providence now its a nationwide thing.
Roy Miller Roy Miller Tuesday, October 21, 2014 7:52:25 PM When I was a volunteer years ago our SCBA's didn't have a warning whistle on them. Another fireman & I were in the attic of a church where the air conditioner was burning & I had just enough time to turn on my nozzle when my SCBA quit. I looked at my partner & could tell he was in the same boat. I kicked a hole in the ceiling & the fire chief was standing there with a couple of firemen & a ladder. He knew where we were & how much air we didn't have. We climbed down the ladder & I gave my SCBA to another fireman & he told me it was empty. We only had two on our truck & about that time the next towne,s engine got there. There was already a rescue rig there & they started us on O2. I felt lousey the rest of the day & the next day my legs hurt. For some reason cyanide goes to your thigh muscles. That's how the coroner in Hollywood knew Marilyn Monroe was dosed with it. Her thighs had blue streaks in them. She was a pillhead but knew how many pills & how much booze she could tolerate. She was naked when found & no woman commits suicide naked, it's psycological.

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