Knapp, Jerry. Fire As a Mechanism Of Injury. Journal of Emergency Medical
Services. May 1987.
Abstract: This article provides information on treating victims
who have suffered injuries from a fire. It explains how a residential fire
will behave and how a fire injures its victims. It describes the most common
injuries found at a fire scene and how to treat them.
As a fire starts out, it produces a large amount of heat and smoke. The
heat and smoke rise to the ceiling, while the cooler air remains near the
ground. The rooms of the house will reach a thermal balance, making the
atmosphere above the thermal balance line intolerable. The fire will then
progress to either the flashover stage or a backdraft stage. A fire will
usually flashover because heat production is high and there is enough oxygen
to supply the expanding fire. Backdraft occurs when there is not enough
oxygen to supply the flames. The fire smothers itself and waits for oxygen.
When oxygen is provided the flames will violently explode.
Most victims of a fire suffer from inhalation of products of combustion.
Gases produced from the flames cause upper and lower airway injuries. The
face, neck, nose, and mouth will swell. An inflammation of the larynx and
trachea may also occur. This swelling causes airway obstruction and requires
immediate intubation and in some cases, a tracheotomy. The longer a victim
inhales the gases, the more carboxyhemoglobin will form. This substance
results in hypoxia, which prevents the body from absorbing oxygen.
Flames can also cause injury, although usually not directly. Heat from
flames will cause panic in victims who are trying to escape. Panic will
cause irrational thoughts and may provoke those trapped by flames to escape
any way possible. Victims who stand and attempt to run will be overwhelmed
by the intolerable atmosphere of smoke and other gases and will suffer inhalation
injuries, possibly causing unconsciousness. Any flame or burn injuries will
usually occur after death.
For more information, contact:
Journal of Emergency Medical Services at 1-800-266-JEMS