Smoke, the Silent Killer


tags: Fire, Arson, Homicide,

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By Mark Hamilton

From the June 2017 issue of the APJ.

A Preventable Tragedy

Death in residential fires from smoke inhalation is a preventable tragedy. Government legislators, researchers and experts in the field of fire investigation are continually striving to reduce the incidence of fire fatalities. Statistical data obtained from the National Coronial Information System (NCIS 2015) has identified smoke inhalation as a primary cause of death in house fires. The statistical data informs us that the death rates are fairly consistent with no noticeable reduction.

In an attempt to reduce the number of people dying in house fires from smoke inhalation, states and territories of Australia have introduced legislation making it mandatory for the installation of smoke alarms. But is the legislation effective enough? The literature suggests that the legislation is not adequately protecting and saving the lives of occupants in residential dwellings during a fire and is failing to reduce the incidence of fire fatalities as a result of smoke inhalation.

This article will address the issues of smoke inhalation and its effects, smoke alarm selection and the current legislation within the states and territories of Australia. The understanding of these issues will provide a way to generate positive outcomes to reduce the number of people dying from smoke inhalation in residential fires in Australia.   

Smoke inhalation from residential house fires in Australia and internationally continue to kill people of all ages, race and gender. According to the NCIS, from 2000 - 2012 there were a total of 829 residential fire deaths in Australia, and the majority of these deaths were preventable.

Numerous studies have been undertaken to reduce the number of fire fatalities from smoke inhalation in residential house fires and research has been conducted into the effects of smoke on the human body and, in particular, the deadly effects of carbon monoxide (CO) and hydrogen cyanide (HCN). In recent years, there has been a greater awareness of smoke alarms, their capabilities, limitations and the various testing that occurs in order for researchers to be able to make informed decisions as to which smoke alarm is more effective in a fire. 

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