Firefighting, Smoke Inhalation and Workers’ Compensation: What You Need to Know

Firefighting exposes Safety Personnel to smoke inhalation. This smoke contains a large variety of substances that can cause respiratory diseases.  Fires release a large variety of items into the atmosphere. If this smoke is inhaled, it can cause damage to the lungs. The smoke generated by the heating and burning of the materials is also a factor. These substances contain toxic gases, particles, and other contaminants. Fires, depending upon where they occur, can burn both natural and synthetic materials. For example, smoke from forest or grass fires may contain more natural materials than the smoke from a warehouse fire.

What Compounds are in Smoke?

Smoke inhalation contains many different compounds. These can include the following items:

  • Carbon monoxide
  • Carbon dioxide
  • Acrolein
  • Phosgene
  • Hydrochloric acid
  • Chlorine
  • Cyanide
  • Ammonia
  • Aldehydes
  • Nitric acid
  • Nitrous oxide.

What Products Cause Toxic Smoke?

Smoke inhalation, that is toxic, can emanate from a variety of sources. These sources can include the following items:

  • Wood
  • Cotton
  • Paper
  • Petroleum products
  • Polyvinyl chloride (PVCs)
  • Plastics, refrigeration materials
  • Soot
  • Wallpaper
  • Lacquered wood

Is the nature of the Smoke Important?

Yes. The nature of the smoke is important. Data concerning the composition of the smoke, as well as the level of the exposure, is very important with respect to the assessment of an industrial injury.

How Does this Smoke Exposure Impact an Injured Worker?

 

The nature and extent of the exposure can determine the impact on the Workers’ health. Two types of exposures are Acute Exposures and Chronic Exposures.

Acute Exposure- Short-term exposure is called acute exposure By acute, it is anticipated that the individual will make a full recovery. Acute exposures can also possibly lead to respiratory symptoms.

Chronic Exposure- Continuous or repeated contact with a toxic substance over a long period of time (months or years) is considered as chronic exposure. Chronic exposure can lead to chronic respiratory responses such as bronchitis symptoms, reduction in baseline function, the excess annual decline in lung function.

Are there any special benefits from Workers’ Compensation for Firefighters and Lung Disease?

Yes. There are various evidentiary presumptions that may apply to lung disease claims. There is the Cancer Presumption. The Cancer Presumption includes Lung Cancer. Also, there is an extended total temporary disability benefit for pulmonary fibrosis or chronic lung disease to 240 weeks. See Labor Code Section 4656.

Is there an Association between Smoke Inhalation and Lung Disease?

Yes. There is “data suggest that wildland firefighting is associated with decreases in lung function and increases in airway responsiveness independent of a history of cigarette smoking.” See. The effect of smoke inhalation on lung function and airway responsiveness in wildland firefighters. Am Rev Respir Dis. 1992 Dec;146(6):1469-73.

Is there confirmation that Firefighting is a factor in lung disease?

Yes. Studies have shown and confirm “earlier reports of a chronic effect of firefighting on pulmonary function and suggest an association of this occupational with increased respiratory symptoms and disease independent of cigarette smoke.” See The effect of occupational exposure on pulmonary function: a longitudinal evaluation of firefighters and nonfirefighters. Am Rev Respir Dis. 1982 Mar;125(3):319-22.

Is there any concern when there are repeated acute exposure during firefighting?

Yes. Studies have found that “[t]he repeated acute exposures during firefighting augment the burden of a chronic airway and systemic inflammation and may eventually lead to allergic sensitization of the airways and increased incidence of rhinitis and asthma after prolonged exposure.” Acute effects of smoke exposure on airway and systemic inflammation in forest firefighters J Asthma Allergy. 2018; 11: 81–88.

Are There any Studies concerning Firefighting and Chronic Disease?

Yes. There are studies which indicate that “smoke inhalation of particulate matter and smoke during firefighting induces a local inflammatory response within the lungs and allergic sensitization, which subsequently initiates a systemic response resulting in the adverse health consequences associated with air pollution exposure.”

One study found that ”a short time of low-intensity exposure is adequate in order to generate this inflammatory procedure. Although this effect may be of minor clinical significance for young healthy firefighters, it is inevitable that susceptible subjects establish chronic cardiopulmonary disease. Awareness should be heightened among firefighters to avoid exposure and to adequately use the self-contained breathing apparatuses during operations.” See Prolonged occupational exposure leads to allergic airway sensitization and chronic airway and systemic inflammation in professional firefighters Respiratory Medicine Volume 118 2016, P. 7-14

Where Can I Get Legal Advice?

If you would like a free consultation regarding workers’ compensation, please contact the Law Offices of Edward J. Singer, a Professional Law Corporation. They have been helping people in Central and Southern California deal with their worker’s compensation cases for 26 years. Contact us today for more information.