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Paramedics get kits to deter fire fatalities; Treatment counters cyanide poisoning

Within the past month, a Town of Tonawanda woman and a Kenmore man were killed in fires.

Now the paramedic vehicles serving the town and village carry a new tool to help save lives before fire victims reach the hospital.

CYANOKITs allow paramedics to deliver an intravenous treatment for known or suspected cyanide poisoning, a common result of exposure to smoke from materials burning in a closed environment.

"When you have fires, people are generally unaware of all the chemicals that are in the smoke," said Carla Bevilacqua, a registered nurse and paramedic supervisor. "Cyanide is one of them."

Cyanide affects the ability of cells to supply oxygen, she explained. The chemical compound in the kit delivers a form of vitamin B12 that helps convert cyanide into a form that can be eliminated from the body through urination.

"This isn't something we would use on anybody who's had a little smoke [inhalation]," Bevilacqua said. It's for victims needing critical care -- those who are unresponsive, for example.

Bevilacqua said the kits were introduced after the two recent fatal fires.

Both victims, who were disabled, were pronounced dead at the scene.

Each of the three paramedic vehicles serving the Ken-Ton community has a kit containing two doses.

Each kit costs more than $800.

"It's not a lot of money for one life," Bevilacqua said.

The purchase was underwritten by the James V. Ryan Foundation, whose mission is to maintain and provide the highest standards of prehospital care for community residents and visitors.

"Without them, we wouldn't have this," Bevilacqua said.

Because of its expense, Town of Tonawanda paramedics are among the few units in the area carrying it.

Though the product has been around for several years, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved this particular application only earlier this year.

The addition of the kits to the town's paramedic vehicles was announced at a fire chiefs meeting this week.

The antidote the kit delivers also will be used to treat emergency responders, if necessary.

"Our emergency services personnel are in harm's way. It really serves all of us," Bevilacqua said.

email: jhabuda@buffnews.com