Carbon monoxide: a firefighting hazard
Document Type: Report
Author(s): Clive M. Countryman
Publication Year: 1971

Cataloging Information

  • air quality
  • carbon
  • CO - carbon monoxide
  • CO poisoning
  • fire fighting
  • fire fighting vehicles
  • fire resistant materials
  • fire suppression
  • forest fires
  • wildfires
Partner Site(s):
Record Maintained By:
Record Last Modified: June 1, 2018
FRAMES Record Number: 8188
Tall Timbers Record Number: 5774
TTRS Location Status: In-file
TTRS Call Number: Fire File
TTRS Abstract Status: Okay, Fair use, Reproduced by permission

This bibliographic record was either created or modified by the Tall Timbers Research Station and Land Conservancy and is provided without charge to promote research and education in Fire Ecology. The E.V. Komarek Fire Ecology Database is the intellectual property of the Tall Timbers Research Station and Land Conservancy.


Carbon monoxide (CO) is a highly toxic, nonirritating gas. One of the products of combustion, it is invisible, odorless, tasteless, and slightly lighter than air. But smoke, another combustion product, is visible. And when smoke is present, it is highly likely that CO and other noxious gases are present. Therefore, the old adage 'where there's smoke, there's fire' might well be reworded to 'where there's smoke, there's carbon monoxide.' Available evidence indicates that CO concentrations high enough to have adverse effects on firefighters are likely to be common in many wildland fire control operations. In fact, technological advances in firefighting equipment may be contributing to increased exposure. Bulldozers with heat shields and protective blankets, fire-resistant clothing and other protective devices, such as face and neck shields-all encourage entry into areas where significant concentrations of CO are most likely to be found. Carbon monoxide is the most common and widely distributed air pollutant-total emissions of CO exceed those of all other pollutants combined. Although there are a number of natural sources of CO, these contribute little to CO pollution. Most of the atmospheric CO is the result of the incomplete combustion of carbonaceous materials, such as coal, oil, vegetation, and their products. Internal combustion engines, generation of power and heat from burning fuel, and some industrial and manufacturing processes produce large amounts of CO. Today, motor vehicles alone account for more than half of the CO emissions in the United States. Wildland fires and the burning of refuse and agricultural wastes are also major sources.

Online Link(s):
Link to this document (811 KB [OCR]; pdf)
Link to this document (209 KB [PRI]; pdf)
Countryman, Clive M. 1971. Carbon monoxide: a firefighting hazard. Berkeley, CA: USDA Forest Service, Pacific Southwest Forest and Range Experiment Station. 8 p.