"It’s a smell that permeates everything it comes in contact with…"


            As I climb to the top of the ladder and onto the roof, I begin to feel the heat from the flames lapping above my head as they exit the window before me. I crawl across the steep porch roof to the window, and using my legs I wedge myself into the opening that was once occupied by glass. I lean into the room with nozzle in hand to assess the extent of the fires progress. As I inhale to take my first breath inside the window, I quickly feel and smell the hot smoke and gases from the fire enter my mask. That acrid, musty, burning smell is that of burning plastic.  I can’t breath and quickly begin to choke. In all the turmoil I had forgotten to attach my air hose to my mask.  I quickly lean back into fresh, clean air and reach down to obtain my air hose and properly attach it to my mask. I then can take my first deep breath of safe air from my bottle.

            After 10 minutes of wrestling the hose through the house, the fire had been contained. That smell though, a smell that is truly unique, still lingers in my mask even while breathing clean air.  It’s a smell that permeates everything it comes in contact with. My clothing, my hair, my skin, and even my glasses still smell days after the fire. I can wash my hair a dozen times before I ever truly get rid of it. My glasses hold that smell for far longer than my body can. For weeks after a fire I can sense that infamous smell from my glasses. The lenses and nosepiece have been stained by it. Just by wearing my glasses I am constantly reminded of that stench, the smell of a burning building. What really comprises that smell though?

            According to Millie Chen’s Winter Day, “There are seven primary odors: camphoric, musky, floral, pepperminty, ethereal, pungent, putrid.” I believe of these seven odors, smoke can be described by three of them. After smoke has permeated fabrics or other porous materials, it can often be described as musky. Much like if you were to smell some old wet leaves that have been left to decompose. Smoke can also be described as pungent. When I think of the word pungent I immediately think strong or powerful aroma. Smoke is one of the only smells that I can think of that I can sense or smell from miles away.

When I think of how many different individual smells that comprise smoke, I can really understand why smoke sometimes can be putrid smelling. The gases and odors given off by the many plastics, woods, fabrics, paints, and other flammables is often very toxic and often make me feel very nauseated. Smoke can also be so pungent that when I breathe it in I will actually taste it. Just imagine what it would be like to take paint, a little bit of insulation, a little bit of wood, and some plastic, roll it into a cigarette and smoke it. I know it wouldn’t be healthy and I know it wouldn’t taste good. That’s what I have to experience each and every fire I go to. I have to smell all of those awful aromas and breathe those toxic gases into my lungs. Even with the air packs I use to supply me with fresh oxygen, sometimes events happen that are unavoidable and require me to be exposed to smoke and its smell and toxic properties.

            Smoke is one of the most unique odors to me. It can be a horrible, unpleasant smell that can make you sick, or it can be one of the most pleasant, relaxing odors. That’s all in opinion though. Either way, smoke will continue to bother us and please us for years to come.



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