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Respirator masks in fire response

If you’re called to serve in an environment where you might be exposed to smoke and ash, protect yourself

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Gordon Graham here with Today’s Tip from Lexipol. And Today’s Tip is for all my friends in public safety, and it has to do with masks. Now, I know what you’re thinking: not masks! And before you tune out, tune back in for a couple minutes. Masks aren’t just for viruses.

Public safety personnel may need to mask up because in many parts of the country, wildfire season is again upon us. And as these fires burn longer, with more intensity and in greater proximity to urban areas, all kinds of public safety personnel get called to help manage evacuations and coordinate access control in environments filled with smoke and ash.

Air pollutants such as smoke can trigger heart attacks, stroke, and irregular heart rhythms. The risk is greater for those with high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or for those of you who smoke.

Plus, particulates inhaled from smoke can penetrate the lungs and enter the bloodstream. They can also constrict blood vessels and increase heart rate and blood pressure, which can lead to cardiac arrest. None of this is good.

But remember that all masks are not created equal. Don’t be so fast to pull out the familiar cloth or surgical mask in a smoky environment. These kinds of masks help prevent respiratory droplets from traveling to infect others. They offer little protection against smoke particles.

Unlike the droplets that spread COVID-19, the tiny particles found in haze and smoke require a tight-fitting N95 or P100 respirators. Your department-issued PPE should include these respirator masks for use on the job. But you might even consider buying a package of them for personal use, also.

Long-range drought conditions across many parts of the country mean wildfires will continue to cause air quality issues. If you’re called to serve in an environment where you might be exposed to smoke and ash, protect yourself. Wear the correct mask. Your health, and frankly, your life, depends on it.

And that’s Today’s Tip from Lexipol. Gordon Graham signing off.

Gordon Graham has been actively involved in law enforcement since 1973. He spent nearly 10 years as a very active motorcycle officer while also attending Cal State Long Beach to achieve his teaching credential, USC to do his graduate work in Safety and Systems Management with an emphasis on Risk Management, and Western State University to obtain his law degree. In 1982 he was promoted to sergeant and also admitted to the California State Bar and immediately opened his law offices in Los Angeles.