Thursday, October 25, 2007

Brush Fires

We've had some. A lot of you asked how we were doing, others wanted to know why a California brush fire was such a big deal compared to their locally grown variety. I've posted a collective response on RAH and RAMVA.

Being a native Californian we're probably better prepared than most California families, although the main emphasis of our preparedness has been toward earthquakes. We keep the Important Stuff in one drawer of a filing cabinet and each of our vehicles carries a Bug-Out Kit that includes water, sturdy shoes, toilet paper and so on. I've also got a Medical Bag and that's what I want to talk about in this article.

Designed primarily for medical emergencies resulting from an earthquake, the medical bag focused on treatment of lacerations and fractures. But after breathing brush-fire smoke for the last week I've added a few items.

Saline nasal spray
Gauze face masks
Bronchial dilator

The saline nasal spray is commonly available. In a pinch you can make your own or even use plain distilled water. By preventing your nasal passages from drying out your body can filter out a lot of the crap suspended in the smoke before it gets to your lungs. And there is a lot of it -- your nose will run like a river of tar.

The face masks are more effective than a T-shirt or bandanna, although either will serve to keep out the particles of soot and charcoal. But only an industrial-grade mask can keep out the particles that clot your nose and end up in your lungs. And they don't make industrial-grade masks for children.

Smoke from a brush fire contains all manner of chemical contaminants, many of which trigger allergic reactions that can cause the air-ways in your lungs and bronchial tubes to swell. Bronchial dilators are medications that reverse the swelling. Albuterol is one such drug. It comes in an inhaler. You'll need a prescription for it, unless you buy it from an off-shore source.

An expectorant is anything that makes your lungs juicy and causes you to cough. (Breathe enough smoke, besides making you vomit, you'll be hacking up lungers that look like raisins.) For a first-aid kit the stuff you buy over the counter, such as Mucinex, should work well enough.

Oxygen is just that. The same thing you use in your plane. I've got an E-pax kit that includes a D-sized bottle of oxygen (about as big around as a thermos but two thermos-bottles in length), a regulator and two oxygen masks. Once you buy the bottle you can get it refilled at the airport ($) or at most welding supply houses. (Hint: Many welding supply companies are also the local source of USP-grade oxygen.)

If we don't learn from our experiences we're doomed to repeat them. This last week has been hell and the nearest fire was ten miles from the house. Even so, the smoke just about drove us out. Maybe this message will save a few of you from having to learn this lesson at first-hand.

-Bob Hoover

PS -- I'm depending on your common sense here. Read the labels. Learn to adjust the oxygen regulator.

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