How to Protect Your Lungs In An Emergency

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How To Protect Your Lungs

One of the most important things you will do in an emergency is to know how to protect your lungs!  Let’s examine the facts!  If the lungs are exposed to contaminants in the air, and you are breathing in those contaminants this is dangerous and potentially fatal.  Also, heat from a fire will sear your lungs and then they can’t work to exchange the oxygen you need.  Now I know this is a very scary thing to say, but truly it is so important.  In 2014, there were 3,275 fire deaths.  How many of those could have been prevented if the folks caught in those fires knew how to protect their lungs.

In the first month of 2016 … Shocking Deaths

Here is a sad and shocking reason to take this seriously!  In just this past month, from January 1 through February 4, 2016 there have been 318 civilian fire deaths and 54 of those were children 18 and under.  This is totally unacceptable, don’t you agree?!

How To Protect Your Lungs

In first month of 2016 far too many deaths!!!

It’s the large amounts of smoke generated in a fire that overcomes our family and hinders our escape.  So it’s IMPORTANT to remember, majority of the time, it will be the smoke, not the fire, that will take our life!  And as we discussed in my previous blog about fire safety, you may barely have 2 minutes after you hear your smoke alarm to get you and your children to safety.  And compounding the problem is that special needs children find the smoke alarm can be flat out ‘alarming’.  It’s an overload to the senses, right?!  It could freeze them or cause them to go into hiding rather than escape.  Kids need to be taught to go to the firefighter, not run from them!  So, drilling with your family is super important.

I want you to have the tools to succeed if a fire emergency were ever to occur in your home.

First line of defense…

…is a working smoke alarm.  It does  no good to have that smoke alarm installed and to not test it monthly making sure the batteries are still good and it’s functioning.  Really?  Yes, really!   Firefighters have so many stories of faulty smoke alarms that didn’t work to give a life-saving signal to the family so they could get out of harm’s way.

Second line of defense…

…is a good escape plan.   An escape plan, and especially one for families with special needs children spells out what you need and what the problems could be for getting to a safe place outside of your home.  It should always instruct each occupant of a room to know what their two exits or ways out are from that room.  And if the door handle is hot, or the door feels hot, you’ve gotta’ use that second route to safety, to escape the growing fire on the other side of that door.

Third line of defense…

With our special needs children I recommend an additional layer of protection, an emergency escape mask, also called a smoke mask.  Well, it’s not really a smoke mask; it is a device that protects from smoke inhalation.  This is it, the third line of defense is learning how to protect your lungs.  A mask designed to capture the contaminants in the air and one that will protect from the searing heat of a growing fire is a critically important component so we can get out, so we can escape to our safe place.  “-)

Why Listen to Me???

Before becoming a stay at home mom again, I worked in the health and safety field.  I had the privilege of serving on my locality’s fire district board, was a manager of an airline’s safety program, and did Industrial Hygiene work for OSHA. Protecting lungs was a big deal in my work-a-day world.  So here are some critically important things to know about how to protect your lungs in an emergency.

How To Protect Your Lungs

Any one of these taken out of the equation and the fire will be gone.

  • Fires grow really, really fast, exponentially fast and quickly becomes a serious hazard
  • Smoke poses serious exposures to contaminants like acrolein, carbon monoxide, and hydrogen cyanide
  • Heat from a fire is very damaging to the lungs

Let’s review these three major points.  And we’ll start by going back to something you may remember from your school days.  In order to have a fire there has to be heat or an ignition source, fuel, and oxygen.  A fourth component is the chemical reaction that continues to sustain the fire.  You can think of it as a tetrahedron or more simply as a triangle.  If one of these components of a fire is removed the fire will die.  Ah, so that’s how a fire extinguisher works, it interrupts one of these fire generation components.

Children receiving their firehats following succesful training in the burn house.

Children receive their fire hats following successful training in the ‘burn house’ where they learned causes of fires and fire prevention.


Fires will reach an overall high-end temperature of 1,100 degrees. It is the hot temperature, heating everything up contributes to the condition known as ‘flashover’, when all the items are so hot, they reach their ignition point and suddenly ignite. This is a dangerous condition for firefighters and they are trained to look for the signs of impending ‘flashover’.  Of course, we will have already escaped from these horrific conditions, given we have a plan and have put that plan into action.

Remember though this very hot temperature is building as the fire progresses.  At shoulder/eye-level the temperature may be around 600 degrees, and close to the floor it will be around 100 degrees.  This heat will scorch your lungs if you are breathing it and in five minutes it will melt your clothes to your skin.  Stay LOW!  The 100-degree temperature will be uncomfortable but not scorch your lungs.  Ah ha!  Now we know one significant reason that a fire escape plan says to hug the floor, stay as low as possible as we escape from a fire in the house.  Besides, you don’t want to be breathing the…


The smoke will start at the ceiling and as more and more is generated it will fill the room. The smoke makes everything dark, so dark that it will be disorienting.  Another reason why you need to practice getting out of your home in a fire emergency. And then, remember, the fire is using up the oxygen too, which can cause you to pass out.  There will be no escaping then, right.  Protect yourself from inhaling the smoke and the inherent nasty by-products the fire is generating.

Now if you can take 3 minutes to watch this Ted Ed presentation about the process of breathing and the gas exchange that occurs in the lung’s alveoli, small saks two tissue membranes thick, you are going to clearly see the risks.  Here is something remarkable…if these alveoli were spread out they would cover the size of a tennis court.  That is a lot of surface area over which oxygen and carbon dioxide are exchanging.   It is also the reason why a paramedic can bring a person in the throws of a drug overdose and respiratory arrest back from the brink in seconds and why in a fire the contaminants in the air so rapidly can cause disorientation, incapacitation, and yes, death.

My goodness, this is serious stuff and I don’t mean to bum you out.  I do want to provide these critical facts so you see why I am passionate about how to protect your lungs!  We are talking about our loved ones dying in a fire, and it’s the smoke inhalation that over 70% of the time is the cause of these deaths  (as per the USFA statistics).

The absolute volume of air exchange is crazy amazing, breathing 10 to 25 times per minute.  So, yes indeed, you are introducing an incredible amount of air carrying contaminants from the smoke if you have not established a way for protecting your lungs.  Is this starting to click now?  Please let me know in the comments below if you have questions or need more information and support for your decision.

Dangerous Air Contaminants

Two of the combustion by-products that make smoke so dangerous are hydrogen cyanide (HCN) and carbon monoxide (CO).   We still hear a lot about carbon monoxide and we should because carbon monoxide’s action in our bodies is to chemically asphyxiate us.  It does this by grabbing onto the red blood cells, filling it with CO and preventing O2 (oxygen) from adhering to the iron-rich hemoglobin.  So then rather than carrying oxygen, which the cells of our body need, the blood cell carries carbon monoxide which the body doesn’t need.  You are already being poisoned if you have a massive headache and your skin has taken on a cherry-red hue; you are in big trouble!

But the fact is hydrogen cyanide (HCN) has a growing body of evidence indicating it is even more poisonous and a far more serious exposure.

How To Protect Your Lungs

Heat – Smoke – Fire … Deadly exposures for our families!

The Really Bad Air Contaminant

Hydrogen cyanide is generated when building materials start to heat up; carpets, clothing, foam insulation, plastics and resins.  When these items are exposed to the increasing heat of a fire it can and does kill folks, including firefighters.  The bottom line here is that this air contaminant affects cognitive function and causes drowsiness.  In other words, you will feel confused and probably sleepy and won’t be able to effectively escape or rescue your loved one.  This is serious stuff, don’t you think?  

And if this isn’t bad enough, these two bad exposures work synergistically to rapidly incapacitate you and your loved ones.   Look, is it no wonder our plan needs to be specific and clearly state at the first sign of an alarm that you just get out of the house.  Is it no wonder, then, how important it is to know how to protect your lungs during an emergency?  And I expect you can see how important it is to exercise your plan?  We’ve only skimmed the surface on the magnitude of these bad actors of a fire.  I’m guessing you get it but if you want to know more I’ll be writing specific posts about hydrogen cyanide and carbon monoxide.  You may also appreciate the additional details in this article from the journal Fire Engineering.  Check out my library where I have included it for your review. 

Suffice it to say once your smoke alarm goes off you are in serious trouble, my friend.  The build up of smoke is a precursor to not being able to escape.  Putting at arm’s reacjour disposal an emergency escape mask is good planning.   Why not go and read my review of the mask I strongly recommend?   You can find it here.

This is scary stuff and I don’t want you or your loved ones to become fire victims!  Now let’s look at and gain a better understanding of …


So it’s not the fire itself that usually takes a life. It’s the two above hazards, smoke and heat.  But you absolutely must understand that the fire grows exponentially!  What do I mean by this?  It’s my way of saying how fast it grows.  It’s like multiplying the fire growth by 10 times by 10 by 10 and by 10. It just gets big really fast, quickly spreading.

How To Protect Your Lungs

This was a flashover test by a fire research organization. Test conducted in a dormitory.

The flames are VERY hot, right, and we all know that heat rises.  So this heat is hitting the ceiling of your house and moves rapidly from one room to the next, especially if you don’t have bedroom doors closed.  With the rising heat from the fire flames it carries the smoke.  As the fire progresses the smoke increases and the smoke and heat creep down from the ceiling, filling the room/rooms with higher and higher temperatures.

All matter has its very own “flashpoint”, the temperature at which that material can be ignited.  Once that temperature is reached for the majority of contents in a room this is where flashover occurs.  By then you will be, should certainly be way out of harm’s way.   Please think about this…

this is the very harm into which our firefighters go to do ‘reconnaissance’, especially if you tell them your child is in the northwest bedroom and hasn’t gotten out to your gathering place.  Loss of life to them is unacceptable!  But please my dear readers, understand that they have to find a way to conduct a search without exposing themselves to being caught in a flash over.  It kills firefighters too, protective gear and all.

So yes, FIRE, it is indeed a serious foreboding problem.  And by you having a well thought out escape plan, by exercising that plan, and by protecting your family with a protective mask that will reduce the risks of smoke inhalation hazards you will be facilitating your escape.  This is a plain, flat out smart choice!

Please go see my review for what I believe is the best escape mask for you and your family.  My purchase includes two to begin with, as it fits into my budget, for me and my special needs daughter and then two for the two bedrooms in the front of my home.  We are now working on drills that include the process of using the masks.  What are you going to do? Please let me know how I can help!

These statistics don’t ever have to include you and your loved ones…

How To Portect Your Lungs

Logo from the United States Fire Administration …Totally Makes Sense

If 1,298,000 fires occurred in 2014, it’s apparent there is a fire risk in your home. We’ve discussed the reasons why fires are happening, things like faulty electricity, cooking fires, and heating equipment failures or catching on fire bed clothes, carpet, that sort of thing as primary causes of fires in the home.  Already in 2016, we know one child has died in a fire from a heating device.  This is ugly.  Anytime anyone dies in a fire this it’s an unspeakable tragedy.  Can you imagine losing your twins who were only 1-year-old.  Tragically this too has already happened this year!  (These statistics are taken from the United States Fire Administration and can be found at

Truly…Now Is The Time!

Now is the time to be proactive and protect our children in every way that we can. Seriously consider what we have discussed today.  You now know how to protect your lungs should a fire emergency ever occur in your home.  You know the steps to follow and you know how important an escape mask is to protecting your lungs from the searing heat of a fire and from smoke.

I think this is a no brainer!  I hope you do too!  And don’t wonder what you should buy either.  I have done the homework for you, I have purchased this same emergency mask for my household.

How To Protect Your Lungs

This is the one I recommend.  Along with the whistle and light it is a good choice.

You can find these through different vendors but I deal directly with the Xcaper Industries management team.  Go check out the review of my top recommendation, the Xcaper Emergency Mask.  Use my Promo Code: SNAP and get a discount on your purchase. (

Contact me with your questions!

If you have any questions or want to leave me a comment, holler at me below.  Or contact me here.  I will get back to you as quickly as possible, sometimes within minutes if I happen to be online at that moment. And certainly within 24 hours, so be sure and come back and check in with me.

15 Responses to “How to Protect Your Lungs In An Emergency

  • What wonderful information. We often think about what to do during a fire, but I don’t think enough of us actually prepare like this. i never even thought about protecting my lungs.

    I know several people with special needs children. This is especially important for them and I will surely pass this on to them. Thank you so much for sharing!

    • Linda

      Hello Brandy,

      Thank you very much for dropping in and reading this information. From my previous work in the health and safety field I can certainly agree with you that preparing for an emergency is not often thought about. I feel this is such an important aspect of good family planning and caring for our loved one’s needs.

      I am most grateful for your kindness in sending this information along to others that will benefit, especially families with special needs children. Just think how good we both will feel to know that sharing this information can mean a life saved. Thank goodness!

      Linda “-)

  • Thanks for this! I hadn’t really though about it before, but you’re absolutely right – most fire deaths are actually caused by smoke inhalation.

    If people were prepared in an emergency, then perhaps some of the casualties you’ve mentioned could have been prevented and people could have escaped without harm.

    Somber topic, but a very valuable point being made! 🙂

    • Linda

      You are very welcome! I am just hoping that in time I can get this message spread far and wide. The tragedies of lost lives are so difficult to accept that any little thing we can do to help prevent this is effort well spent.

      While the subject is certainly quite somber, I am grateful to hear you found it has made a “valuable point”.

      Thank you very much fro stopping by


  • Some very useful articles, well done.
    I loved the physiotherapist vs physical therapist one. To be honest i didn’t know the difference before and in fact i thought they were the same!
    I was in sports for 14 years and frequent visits to my physiotherapist for a sprained ankle was like a second nature to me.
    Good post

    • Linda

      Hello…so glad you found something to love on my site. It continues to grow and I hope in value to many as I address the many concerns affecting families today, especially families with special needs kiddos. I can see you there with your physiotherapist getting that ancle wrapped. Ah how many visits my son, a basketball player, also made for therapy from injuries.

      I hope you will check back in time and again to see what else may be here that can offer encouragement or support, especially for those you know who may be raising a special needs child.


  • Thank you so much for sharing! Enjoyed the detail in your post. In addition, it was very easy to follow along. You stated that you previously worked in fire and safety before becoming a full time Mom. Could you suggest what type of drills to perform for students with special needs?

    • Linda

      Hello, Nakisha!

      Thank you for taking time to drop in to read about this critically important subject of protecting one’s lungs during an emergency. I’m certainly glad you found it easy to follow.

      To answer your questions about what type of drills to perform for students with special needs here is what I recommend.

      First, because you are asking about students I hope my assumption is correct that they are in an educational setting. All organizations with students who have developed normally and those who have some sort of special need should be drilling at least twice per year. Having said that, a special needs student, depending on their need, is likely going to NEED a drill that has addressed their challenges. Let’s look at a couple of examples:

      A student that is overwhelmed with the noise of an alarm needs to be trained not to hide from the noise.

      A student that cannot see may hear the sound of a firefighter’s breathing with their SCBAs, a bit like the Darth Vader sound and it will scare them. They will need their drill to address the sounds and smells they hear since these are how they navigate their world.

      A student who is mobility impaired has to know what elements in their escape plan ensures they have a buddy to get from point A to point B.additional emotional support to handle an emergency.

      No doubt this highlights the very important job that correctly developing an escape plan actually holds is conducting drills. A drill should be an exercise of a plan and that drill will provide experience to respond without the disabling panic that can rise up from an emergency. An exercise of our well developed plan can also show us where there is room fro improvement.

      The point I think is this: Develop your plan… and drill to it, It will be an opportunity for facility staff to drill it in, for them and their students. The exercise component ensures that a plan works when we need it to.

      So the type of drill should be one that takes each specific plan and ensures each facility has prepared for its occupants, all of them, especially the ‘special needs’ students.

      Hope this was helpful.


  • Linda, this such a thorough and detailed article on what to do in case of a fire. It’s a frightening prospect, to be sure, but having information and being prepared can make the difference between life and death. I appreciate the way you covered all aspects of the fire, including heat, smoke and contaminates (which most people don’t think about).

    • Linda

      Thank you, Laurie. It is indeed my goal to cover all the bases and to make sure that no matter the situation, with special needs children or not, we can get ourselves to a safe place away from the fire. You are positively correct, it does make the difference between life and death. I only hope that in time this word can reach out to more and more families and help them make a plan and where they can to protect themselves with that extra layer of safety with a mask that will protect their lungs as they escape.

      Indeed the potential is otherwise much too frightening. Life is precious and oh so very delicate when the lungs are being exposed to a fire. i hope you will share this with others. Getting the word out is how we can help each other out.


  • My son has been a fire fighter for 11 years and it scares me to know what all can happen to him when it comes to fires and breathing in all the chemicals and fumes from the fire. This is an amazing site and has a lot of wonderful information. I know a lot of people who have no idea how important it is to protect their lungs and I think the elderly, children and even some adults that have no clue need to be informed and your web site is a great source of information.
    I know a lot of people that have some special needs children in their home, daycare, homes and even that stay with relatives that need to know how to protect those children. This is very important and I know I will pass this web site on so people can read and understand the importance. Thank you so much for sharing and caring!

    • Linda

      Of course Allen, you are most welcome. I have been blessed with great pportunities to learn and engage with people from all walks of life regarding health and safety needs. Now I am investing this knowledge base into a community the special needs community that I feel may not have run into information like this yet.

      I have great respect for the men and women who work in the fire industry. May I suggest that you send him the link to my post reviewing the Xcaper mask. Many professionals are using ths maks on their jobs when doing over-haul or in forest fire applications. Here is the link should you want to pass word along.… and please tell him among the many I am included as an appreciative community memeber.

      Kind regards,


  • This is a very serious topic.I am stay at home mom with a special need child as well. I learn about checking the smoke detector every month to see if the batteries were still good, I learn about the escape plan, but I never thought to teach my son because he is non verbal and has Autism. I also didn’t know that I could use a smoke mask for him. I will definitely get my kids together where we can show my son repeatedly about the escape plan. Thank you for sharing your post.

    • Linda

      I am humbly grateful that you found this information helpful! I am passionate about sharing something that can make a difference in your life. The fact your son is non-verbal is a BIG deal when it comes to emergency planning. Many fire departments are now recognizing the critically important communication aspect when responding to a home where there is an autistic child or young adult.

      The smoke masks I strongly recommend is the one I have reviewed in my website. It is easy to use, not hard to breath through and definitely provides another layer of protection should an emergency every occur. I hope you will check it out. Here is a link to it:

      Let me know if there is anything else I can help you with.

      With appreciation,


  • when I was a teenager we had a house fire. It was a big deal after that happened to us, I now take precautions in my own home. Although I do not have children I have a dog, myself and my husband. This message is so important to share and make others aware of what we can do for protection, preventative and if we have a problem. I will share your site with my friends and family, Its always a good reminder to check your fire alarms and create a plan. Thanks for sharing

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