London 1666. Chicago 1871. Peshtigo, Wisconsin 1871. Coconut Grove, Boston, 1941. West Warwick, RI 2003.

What do these incidents all have in common? Two things…Oxidation & Pyrolysis.

“Someone was yelling ‘Fire!’, ‘Fire!’, so I ran into the apartment. There was smoke everywhere and I pulled my T-shirt up over my mouth and nose. I was in the apartment for 15 or 20 minutes putting out the fire. The whole apartment was on fire. I had it out by the time the fire department finally arrived.”

He was fine until about 15 minutes after he went home, when he began vomiting repeatedly into the toilet. She called 911. One of our residents took the call from the ambulance crew that had arrived at his home and ordered an oxygen mask for transport. By the time I saw him, he was feeling much better, attributing it to the oxygen. I checked some basic blood work which was reassuring. His nausea and vomiting was probably just due to the noxious smoke rather than carbon monoxide toxicity from the incomplete combustion of materials in the apartment. He went home about 45 minutes after arrival, very thankful for my help. (My help? He’s the one that put out the fire!)

I picked up the next chart. Chief complaint: Smoke Inhalation.

Thanks to Meg for the quotation code.


Pyrolysis: Direct liberation of fuel constituants through melting and boiling.

Oxidation: the chemical interaction between oxygen and fuel generating heat and light as byproducts.