Getting On Like A House On Fire…!!!

December 12, 2007


On a recent night shift we were called to a “House fire…persons reported!”

On with the old Blues & Twos and off we jolly well went. It did,nt take us long to arrive at the scene…a semi detached house at the end of a very long street. Already on scene were the Fire Brigade lighting up the surrounding houses with the swirl of their blue flashing lights and emitting a mechanical humming from the engines.

Most of the darkened street was covered in a haze of smoke as the fire had been put out and now they were damping down to prevent re-ignition. As I got out of the truck I could see an extension ladder up against the front bedroom window. Heavy scorching and smoke damage was evident all around the upper surface of the window frames.

With helmet and hi-viz jacket and O2 bag in hand, I looked for someone in charge. We get called to a lot of house fires with persons reported and thankfully we find that everything is okay. Just occasionally its not….and thats when things get a little bit hairy at times.

Quickly I found the officer in charge (Top Trumpton with a white helmet and black banding). He pointed me towards the fire engine where our casualty is sitting in the back with a neighbour. After making sure that we only had one casualty I climbed into the fire engine and introduced myself to the unfortunate receiver of these events.

Our truck is parked behind the fire engine so we carefully guide our patient to our vehicle where we can check her out properly. Once inside our truck we can see more clearly that she has suffered a lot of smoke damage herself! She is covered from head to toe in black soot. She is coughing like a demented seal with whooping cough after swallowing a hedgehog covered in barbed wire!

We replace the O2 mask for a nebuliser and administer salbutamol which eases her coughing slightly and notice that she has “sooting” in her nose and at the back of her throat. This is highly indicative of severe smoke inhalation and means that hot gases may well have been inhaled. Her chest sounds are wheezy and she is producing black phlegm on coughing. She appeared to have no other injuries.

This to me seemed like a straight forward job…O2/nebuliser/monitor/obs etc and of course bags of reassurrance and transport to A/E for further evaluation and treatment……except…….

…..she did not want to go to hospital. In between bouts of coughing she just got more and more irate that she was not being allowed back into her house for her things, handbag etc! Whilst trying to explain the consequences of smoke inhalation we were becoming more and more concerned as to the amount of smoke fumes in our vehicle that were emanating from off this woman!

We both strongly advised/insisted that she go with us to get sorted due to the fact that she was suffering now and that later she could suffer from secondary lung damage because of the chemicals in smoke. She was having none of it, and with that off came the mask, out of the door she went and marched over to her front door past the hose reels that were snaking into her hallway and collared the Top Trumpton.

I stood there watching this woman argue that she wanted to get back in. One of the fire men, who had rescued her down the ladder, asked if she had said any word of thanks? The answer was a big fat no! She was so wrapped up in her own world she was arrogant beyond belief! And no it was not due to shock or emotions or coping strategies….she was arrogant!

We still had to carry on our shift and everyone we met said we stunk of smoke. Our clothes, our hair our breath! And we were not even in the fire! At the end of the shift when I got home I stripped off outside the back door and put all my kit in a bag ready to be washed. I expect that this woman will have had to attend A/E at sometime as she will not have got away with inhaling that much smoke without some damage!