Bushfires: How To Cope With Smoke Inhalation

Written by | 31 Jan 2018

There are few downfalls of an Australian summer, but the fierceness of our bushfires is certainly one of them. As a precautionary measure it’s important all Aussies know how to provide First Aid for smoke inhalation to fight the number of lives lost in the case of a tragic bush or house fire.

Since the introduction of smoke alarms in the home in the 1970’s there has been a dramatic reduction (more than half to be exact) in the number of lives lost due to fire related causes. Unbeknown to most, in a fire; most deaths are actually caused from excessive inhalation of smoke and toxic fumes, not by the flame itself.

Whether it’s a bush or house fire, if you’re exposed to an excessive amount of smoke or other toxic fumes, you are at risk of suffering from debilitating smoke inhalation conditions or in extreme conditions; asphyxiation.

Fires are caused by a number of factors and can occur almost anywhere, so it’s important that all Victorians know and understand how to provide First Aid for smoke inhalation to minimise the damage and stress caused by over exposure to smoke.

What Are The Dangers Of Smoke Inhalation And Other Toxic Fumes?

Inhaling smoke, gas or toxic fumes can decrease the supply of oxygen to the lungs, burn the airways and cause the onset of a respiratory emergency.

Carbon monoxide is commonly encountered and harmful to inhale. The household gas can be found in many home appliances such as a stove or heating device.

Unfortunately, carbon monoxide has no taste or smell and is invisible so it’s imperative to always ensure devices that run off the gas are not faulty or leaking. If there is a flue leak from one of these devices the carbon monoxide levels in a room can become dangerously high which can cause unconsciousness and even death if in a confined, unventilated space.

Other substances to avoid inhaling include: burnt plastic, paint, thinners, petroleum products and adhesives. These products are toxic and if in a poorly ventilated space can cause unconsciousness and death.

Australian Fire Statistics

In Victoria, the fire danger period typically begins in late November and continues until May. Throughout this time grass, land and bushfires are at an increased risk of occurring and combusting whilst house fires are generally at risk all year round.

Preventative Measures For Smoke Inhalation

Children, the elderly and people who suffer from asthma or heart disease are more susceptible to toxic fume and smoke inhalation so it’s important they take the appropriate precautionary measures:

  • If there is smoke circulating the area you are in, but the fire or cause is not a danger, remain indoors and seal any points of entry
  • If you must run an air conditioner when your building is surrounded by smoke, change the settings to ‘recycle’ to minimise smoke access inside

First Aid Management For Smoke Inhalation

  1. Follow DRSABCD
  2. Remove casualty from smoke exposure if possible or to a more ventilated, open space
  3. Sit casualty upright and loosen clothing around the neck/airways
  4. Call triple zero (000) for medical assistance
  5. If you are trained in oxygen administration and have access to an oxygen tank, administer to casualty
  6. If casualty stops breathing, provide CPR
  7. If the casualty is having difficulty breathing (wheezing), provide a reliever inhaler (puffer) if you have access to one


Most people die from smoke inhalation well before a fire reaches them. This shocking statistic reveals just how dangerous smoke inhalation can be for a person.

Before it develops into a life-threatening condition, smoke inhalation can cause a range of uncomfortable and debilitating symptoms which are stressful to endure. The tightness in the chest and inability to catch a breath can be a terrifying experience for anyone.

Whether it’s a child, adult or elderly person who is battling with smoke inhalation symptoms, the comfort and stress relief that a First Aid trained individual provides is incomparable in this time of need; not to mention minimising the symptoms they experience.

By knowing how to provide First Aid for smoke inhalation you can provide consolation, reduce symptoms and truly make a positive difference before the symptoms develop into a much larger health emergency.