Following afire event, a variety of people spend considerabletime in the post-fire environment. In addition to first responders,fire and law enforcement, the individuals performing investigationsin the property can include insurance claims adjusters, origin andcause fire investigators, inventory assessors, and damageassessors. The fire service, EMS and law enforcement may typicallybe assumed to be wearing appropriate personal protective equipment(PPE), but exposure to post fire hazards should be considered forthose entering the property and performing work well after the fireevent.


Many exposure hazards can exist in a post fire settingindependent of the property's age. Gasses, vapors and chemicalhazards may be present in levels that can cause adverse healtheffects. Additionally, suspended particulates may includepolycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), asbestos and otherhazardous materials. These hazards are not necessarily limited tothe immediate area of the fire, as particulates can remain airbornefor long periods of time and be re-entrained in the air with anyair movement.


To lower the risks to those entering properties after a fireevent, the following should be considered as part of the planningprocesses in assigning or performing field adjusting, contentsinventory, fire origin and cause investigations, and engineering orenvironmental assessments:

  • While direct exposure to inhalation hazards can be minimizedthrough the use of respiratory protection, be sure to use filtersfor both particulate (HEPA filters) and volatile organic compounds(charcoal charged filters). Generally these "dual cartridge"respirator filters are color coded with dual colors: with magenta(for particulate) and yellow (for chemical hazards). Also bereminded of potential breathing restrictions and increasedpotential for heat stress on a warm day. Leave sufficient time toremove yourself from the building, hydrate and recharge beforecontinuing with your work.

  • During application, many building products 'off-gas' at variousrates based upon the product and chemical composition. Someproducts require significant ventilation when applied due to theirhigh volatility (glues, mastics, foams) while others a more gradualcuring process (consider wall paint). Once burned, these chemicalsare released back into the air, generally all at the same time. Besure there is adequate ventilation throughout your inspectionareas.

  • Garments repeatedly used for these types of investigations cancontribute to secondary exposures to these chemicals or hazardousparticulate. In cold weather, hardhat liners, gloves, boots, andjackets all are exposed to the post fire environment and may not beunder coveralls. Routinely replace these items.

  • Decontamination of equipment, no matter how small, should beperformed to avoid another route of secondary exposure.Investigators tools of choice should be kept separate from non-firescene equipment, be enclosed/encased to provide separation fromvehicle interiors (and the ventilation system of the vehicle).

  • Consider the potential for hazardous materials on evidenceremoved from a fire scene. An open air cleaning of the evidence, ifpossible, will limit the potential for secondary exposures ofothers in the investigation chain (materials laboratories, otherinvestigators, etc.). Of course spoliation of evidence concernsmust also be considered in the handling of this decontaminationprocess.

  • Real time reading instrumentation is useful, but understand thata multi-gas detector does not measure dust and dust detectors don'tmeasure volatiles.

Asbestos Considerations

  • Don't assume a "newer" property is free from asbestos containingbuilding materials (ACBMs). There is no definitive date where ACBMswill not be found and assumptions on post-1982, post 1985,post-1990 may not be prudent. Some field observations:

    • Don't limit your concern of asbestos contaminants to "friable"materials only. Many non-friable materials such as floor tiles,cement board, and mastics, when burned, exhibit the same propertiesas friable materials: they can be pulverized under hand pressureand release asbestos fibers.

    • "Renovations": Layered, older material can be present behindnewer finishes. Examples include felt paper liners in subflooring,glues and mastics under carpeting or newer floor tiles, olderwallboard/plaster behind reconfigurations of a new floor plan.

    • Asbestos-containing Wallboard joint compound is not just presentat joints or corners. Consider the application uses 6 to 18 inchtrowels to feather the product and make the wall jointsindistinguishable.

    • Consider how binders and additives were mixed on site forbuilding products such as textured wall or ceilings, jointcompound, glues and mastics for flooring, ceilings or decorativefixtures. Some of these additives contained asbestos for thermaland binding properties and could have been stored on site orstockpiled elsewhere for future use.

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