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Before we get to this month's Close Call, a word of appreciation and cautious optimism: We (along with 7,000 other firefighters and firefighter families) attended the 26th annual National Fallen Firefighters Foundation Memorial Weekend last month in Emmitsburg, MD. While the weekend was 100% focused on supporting the families of the firefighters killed in the line of duty last year, we would be remiss if we didn't point out the fact that President Bush came to the memorial and stayed from start to end. It was a significant decision and very symbolic for him to attend. He is the only President of the United States to ever attend the memorial service. From my very narrow world, focused on the fire service, his attendance meant a great deal for the fire service, especially for the families at the memorial. President Bush spoke personally and met with every single family that was there. We may not all agree on the decisions he has made as our President, but for the families who lost loved ones in 2006, he did the right thing and made a difference by simply being there. He could have stayed away, but he didn't. He could have made a political speech, but he didn't. He could have ignored one of the hottest issues in the fire service today, the embarrassing and horrific handling of firefighter line-of-duty heart attacks by the Department of Justice, but he didn't. He publicly committed to fixing the Hometown Heroes Act. He said, "I want to tell you today that the Hometown Heroes Act will be fully implemented. This program will be administrated the way it was intended to be administrated. That's the least we can do as we honor the families of those who have died in the line of service."
We appreciate the President attending the memorial — it means great deal. And we look forward to the President following up with his promise. You can read his presentation to those at the memorial at http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2007/10/20071007.html.
Steam. We really don't give much thought to steam, although we should. Sure, when we are at a fire, water converts to steam. And we know that such steam can be dangerous if we are not protected.
But what about steam systems in buildings? First, understand that steam is a very clean and pure form of energy. There are no adverse public health effects associated with proper and safe steam use. Steam can be used for everything from heating and cooling to sterilizing and food processing. But what kind of hazards can it create for firefighters?
The word "steam" refers to the white mist that condenses above boiling water as the hot vapor ("steam" in the first sense) mixes with the cooler air. Interestingly, this mist is made of tiny droplets of liquid water, not gaseous water, so it is no longer technically steam. In the spout of a steaming kettle, the spot where there is no condensed water vapor, where it appears that nothing is there, is actually steam. Either way, it is very hot.
A steam burn usually results from boiling water converted to steam. Minor steam burns can happen in any kitchen, but a steam burn can also be very severe, such as at some emergencies we encounter. Although the skin will not char, as would be the case with a flame burn, blisters and redness will appear. A third-degree steam burn will penetrate deep into the flesh and the site may be white, heavily blistered and numb. The larger concern with steam burns, however, is the airway. Inhaling steam can cause serious damage to the bronchial tubes and could lead to death. And that is why we use the term "no exposed skin" (or airway; use breathing apparatus) whenever operating in these potential conditions. Why take the chance?
How nasty can steam be? The steam rising from boiling water exceeds 212 degrees Fahrenheit. Pure steam is an invisible vapor, but the small drops of condensed water that hover over hot pans can still cause a severe burn, even if they are not technically steam. True steam can be especially dangerous because it is invisible, so a person will be unaware of being in danger of a steam burn until it has already happened. Again, the solutions include pre-planning, knowing the building, knowing the systems within a building and providing firefighters with the best protection.