First Aid



The inhalation of smoke, gases [such as carbon monoxide) or toxic vapours can be lethal. A casualty who has inhaled fumes is likely to have low levels of oxygen in his body tissues [Hypoxia p 90) and therefore needs urgent medical attention. Do not attempt to carry out a rescue if it is likely to put your own life at risk; fumes that have built up in a confined space will quickly overcome anyone who is not wearing protective equipment.


Any person who has been enclosed in a confined space during a fire should be assumed to have inhaled smoke. Smoke from burning plastics, foam padding and synthetic wall coverings is likely to contain poisonous fumes. Casualties who have suffered from fume inhalation should also be examined for other injuries due to the fire, such as external burns.


Carbon monoxide is a poisonous gas that is produced by burning, but

It has no taste or smell. The gas ads directly on red blood cells, preventing them from carrying oxygen to the body tissues. If inhaled in large quantities for example, from smoke or vehicle exhaust fumes in a confined space.

It can very quickly prove fatal: Lengthy exposure to even a small amount of carbon monoxide – for example, due to a leakage of fumes from a defective heater or flue – may also result in severe, or possibly fatal, poisoning.

Carbon monoxideExhaust fumes of motor vehicles
Smoke from most fires
Back-draughts from blocked chimney flues
Emissions from defective gas or paraffin heaters and poorly maintained boilers
■Grey-blue skin coloration
■Rapid, difficult breathing
■Impaired consciousness, leading to unconsciousness
■Brief exposure to high levels
■Nausea and ■vomiting ■Incontinence
■Prolonged exposure to low levels
SmokeFires smoke is a bigger killer than fire itself. Smoke is low in oxygen which is used up by the burning of the fire] and may contain toxic fumes from burning materials■Rapid, noisy and difficult breathing ■Coughing and ■wheezing
■Burning in the nose or mouth
■Soot around the mouth and nose
Carbon dioxideires smoke is a bigger killer than the fire itself. Smoke is low in oxygen which is used up by the burning of the fire] and may contain toxic fumes from burning materials.■ Rapid, noisy and difficult breathing
■ Coughing and wheezing
■ Burning in the nose
or mouth
■ Soot around the mouth and nose
Solvents and fuelsCamping gas and propane-fueled stoves Solvent abusers may use a plastic bag to concentrate the vapour, especially with glues]Headache and vomiting
■ Impaired consciousness
■ Airway obstruction from using a plastic bag or from choking on vomit may result in death
■ Solvent abuse is a potential cause of cardiac arrest

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