Only Seconds to React

Having Your Fire Extinguisher Ready

Fire is neither good nor bad, it just is. When the right combination of fuel, oxygen, and an ignition source combine there will be fire. It can be a lifesaving asset providing light, cooking, and heat – or can be property and life destroying.

Though fire safety has many aspects* today we’re going to discuss fire extinguishers. As preppers, we build in redundancies. If the power goes out, we start up the generator and cook over propane; if those fail, we light lanterns and cook over a small fire. Most of us aren’t use to having an open flame around on a regular basis and accidents can happen. To mitigate those times, get out the fire extinguisher and place it within arms reach of the fire. No one means to knock over the kerosene lantern, but suddenly the counter is engulfed with flame and you have seconds to make decision.

In that situation, if the fire is small and not spreading, grab the extinguisher. Start with your back to the exit, making sure the fire does not block your escape route. Stand about six feet away from the fire. Then, as fire departments teach, use the PASS word:

  • Pull the pin to unlock the fire extinguisher
  • Aim at the base (bottom) of the fire
  • Squeeze the lever to discharge the agent
  • Sweep the spray from left to right until the flames are totally extinguished

A typical fire extinguisher contains ten seconds of extinguishing power. You cannot use fire extinguishers more than once, they must be replaced or refilled if used.

For home use there are typically two categories: a less expensive, plastic top, disposable type and a metal top, rechargeable type. Professionals recommend the rechargeable ones; they initially cost more, but are far more reliable, can be serviced, and have a longer shelf-life.

There are no laws regarding home fire extinguisher inspections, however it is recommended that twice a year you inspect your extinguisher. You should check:

  • the pressure gauge arrow to be sure it’s full (it should be in the green area straight up on the gauge).
  • the hose and nozzle for cracks, tears or blockage.
  • the pin and tamper seal to ensure they are intact.
  • that the handle-locking device is in place.
  • for dents, leaks, rust, chemical deposits and/or other signs of abuse or wear.

At the end of your inspection turn the extinguisher upside down and hit the bottom sharply with your hand, then shake it well. This will prevent the dry chemical powder from settling or packing down in the cylinder, making it ineffective.

Most rechargeable dry chemical fire extinguishers, if properly handled and maintained, have a lifespan of 5 – 15 years. If your extinguisher is 5 years old bring it in to a local service center and have it inspected (costs about $20). If your extinguisher is over 12 years old, it needs to be hydrostatically tested and recharged by a qualified service technician (they’ll probably just swap you for one that’s been recently tested).

Remember fire doesn’t care, so you need to.

(Friday: What I Did This Week To Prep)

*Dr. Bones, of the Doom & Bloom Show, recently wrote posts on Smoke Inhalation and Natural Burn Treatments. Both of these topics are huge fire safety aspects; these posts  contain good information and are definitely worth reading.

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Expired, or Not Expired… That is the Question

What medications* do we keep in our preps? We store: 1) over-the-counter (OTC) drugs: ibuprofen (Motrin), acetaminophen (Tylenol), aspirin, diphenhydramine (Benadryl), pseudoephedrine (Sudafed), loratadine (Claritin), guaifenesin (Mucinex), and 2) antibiotics (that I recently posted about): amoxicillin, cephalexin, ciprofloxacin, doxycycline, metronidazole.

How long can they be stored? They have expiration dates, does that mean they go bad?

Let’s start with what do drug expiration dates mean? Required since 1979, the expiration date is the last date that the pharmaceutical company will guarantee 100% potency (some sources state at least 90% potency). So then we ask, how long does it take a drug to lose it’s beneficial effects?

That is the question that the Department of Defense (DOD) asked the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1985 (the military had over a billion dollars worth of medication stored). So in response, in 1986, the DOD and the FDA began the Shelf Life Extension Program (SLEP).

The SLEP program is documented in the Wall Street Journal article, Many Medicines Are Potent Years Past Expiration Dates, by Laurie P. Cohen, March 28, 2000. The military submitted, and the FDA has evaluated, over 100 drugs – prescription and OTC. The results showed that about 90% of them were safe and effective well past their expiration dates, some for 10 years or longer. Joel Davis, a former FDA expiration-date compliance chief, said that with a handful of exceptions – notably nitroglycerin, insulin and some liquid antibiotics – most expired drugs are probably effective.

In light of these results, a former [FDA] director of the testing program, Francis Flaherty, says he has concluded that expiration dates put on by manufacturers typically have no bearing on whether a drug is usable for longer.

Mr. Flaherty notes that a drug maker is required to prove only that a drug is still good on whatever expiration date the company chooses to set. The expiration date doesn’t mean, or even suggest, that the drug will stop being effective after that, nor that it will become harmful.

“Manufacturers put expiration dates on for marketing, rather than scientific, reasons,” said Mr. Flaherty, a pharmacist at the FDA until his retirement in 1999. “It’s not profitable for them to have products on a shelf for 10 years. They want turnover.”

The Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide, in Drug Expiration Dates – Do They Mean Anything?, notes that, with rare exceptions, “it’s true the effectiveness of a drug may decrease over time, but much of the original potency still remains even a decade after the expiration date”.

Where and how medications are stored is an important factor in minimizing their degradation. Storing in a cool, dry, dark place will maximize their lifespan; when possible keep sealed in their original container until ready to use. Medications stored in bathroom cabinets or shelves could have effectiveness significantly reduced. Be sure to discard any pills that become discolored, turn powdery, or smell overly strong; any liquids that appear cloudy or filmy; or any tubes of cream that are hardened or cracked.

Dr. Bones, from The Doom and Bloom Show, states in his blog post, The Truth About Expiration Dates, “I put forth to you this recommendation: Do not throw away medications that are in pill or capsule form after their expiration dates if you are stockpiling for a collapse. Even if a small amount of potency is lost after time, they will be of use when we no longer have the ability to mass-produce these medicines. I’m aware that this is against the conventional medical wisdom, but we may find ourselves in a situation one day where something is better than nothing.”

(Friday: What I Did This Week To Prep)

* The terms medications and drugs (referring to legal drugs) are used interchangeably.

Post Script: Dealing With The ‘Tetracycline Becomes Toxic’ Myth

There has long been a belief that the antibiotic tetracycline becomes toxic once it has past it’s expiration date.

In Medscape Today’s article, Do Medications Really Expire?, they discusses the original case, “A contested example of a rare exception [of expired drugs possibly becoming toxic] is a case of renal tubular damage purportedly caused by expired tetracycline (reported by G. W. Frimpter and colleagues in JAMA, 1963;184:111). This outcome (disputed by other scientists) was supposedly caused by a chemical transformation of the active ingredient.”

The case was thoroughly evaluated in the 1978 article, Tetracycline in a Renal Insufficiency: Resolution of a Therapeutic Dilemma, it states, “”Old” and degraded tetracyclines have previously been demonstrated to have direct toxic effects on the renal proximal tubule, but because of changes in manufacturing techniques this is no longer a real problem.” It also states, “It has often been stated that the tetracyclines should be avoided in patients with severe renal disease, but, as we shall see, doxycycline represents an important exception to the rule”.

In Cohen’s article on the Shelf Life Extension Program, Many Medicines Are Potent Years Past Expiration Dates, it goes on to state, “Only one report known to the medical community linked an old drug to human toxicity. A 1963 Journal of the American Medical Association article said degraded tetracycline caused kidney damage. Even this study, though, has been challenged by other scientists. Mr. Flaherty says the Shelf Life program encountered no toxicity with tetracycline”.

Dr. Bones and Nurse Amy, from The Doom and Bloom Show, when interviewed on TSP, clearly state that tetracycline past it’s expiration date is safe (episode 736, beginning at 43:45). Nurse Amy concludes the topic with “. . . if they can just get that in their heads that tetracycline isn’t going to kill you when it’s past expiration”.

Medical evidence supports that tetracycline, past it’s expiration date–especially in the form of doxycycline–is as safe as any other expired antibiotic.

Antibiotics In Your Preps?

“The first rule of antibiotics is try not to use them, and the second rule is try not to use too many of them.” – Paul Marino The ICU Book 2007

Cellulitis

Last week in Soap and Water I posted about the risk, in a collapse situation, of an infection–from minor cuts and scrapes–known as cellulitis. I linked to Dr. Bones Doom and Bloom blog post, Cellulitis: An Epidemic in a Collapse. Here’s another good article by Dr. Bones, A Doctor’s Thoughts on Antibiotics, Expiration Dates, and TEOTWAWKI. For additional perspective about antibiotics before and during a collapse I recommend comments by Dr. ‘Walker’ on TSP forum. Additional, non-prepper/collapse, antibiotic information can be found at eMedicineHealth.com.

I need to state, though I was previously certified and worked as a paramedic for almost ten years, I am currently not a medical professional of any type; thus I am not giving any professional medical advice. All the information in this post is from open internet sources. As Dr. Bones states “. . . [these] are hypothetical strategies for a post-apocalyptic setting. They are not meant to replace standard care and advice when modern medical technology and resources are available.” And always remember, the practice of medicine or dentistry without a license is illegal and punishable by law.

So with all the caveats stated:

Antibiotics refer to a substance that kills, slows or disrupts the growth of:

  • bacterial infections: caused by a pathogenic (a ‘germ’/microorganism that causes disease) bacteria
  • protozoan infections: caused by a parasitic disease, i.e. giardia which occurs through ingestion of infected fecal contaminated water or food

Antibiotics do not fight infections caused by viruses, such as: colds, flu, most coughs, and most sore throats (unless caused by strep).

Much of my information comes from Dr. Bones. I trust his advice. I applaud him; he is a medical doctor who is willing to say what he believes will save lives in a collapse situation. But as he clearly states, “[This] advice is contrary to standard medical practice, and is a strategy that is appropriate only in the event of societal collapse. If there are modern medical resources available to you, seek them out.”

As discussed in Soap and Water, describing a collapse situation, there are several things that will aggravate the chances of getting an infection: 1) We will be doing more ‘dirty’ jobs, 2) We will be doing a lot more manual labor and other activities that can easily lead to cuts and scrapes, and 3) Clean water and basic hygiene will not be as accessible or convenient. So a relatively minor wound that is ignored while you continue working gets more contaminated; then the wound isn’t thoroughly washed out because clean water is saved for drinking. In a short period of time that wound can develop a serious infection.

Dr. Bones states in Fish Antibiotics in a Collapse, “These injuries can begin to show infection, in the form of redness, heat and swelling, within a relatively short time. Treatment of such infections, called “cellulitis”, at an early stage improves the chance that they will heal quickly and completely.  However, many rugged individualists are most likely to “tough it out” until their condition worsens and spreads to their blood.  This causes a condition known as sepsis; fever ensues as well as other problems that could eventually be life-threatening. The availability of antibiotics would allow the possibility of dealing with the issue safely and effectively.”

Having antibiotics available in a collapse situation will be very important, even lifesaving. The question is how can we as preppers obtain a stockpile to be used if other ‘medical resources’ are no longer available?

Dr. Bones continues, “After years of using [antibiotics] on fish, I decided to evaluate these drugs for their potential use in collapse situations. A close inspection of the bottles revealed that the only ingredient was the drug itself, identical to those obtained by prescription at the local pharmacy. If the bottle says FISH-MOX, for example, the sole ingredient is Amoxicillin, which is an antibiotic commonly used in humans.  There are no additional chemicals . . .”

So it seems that fish antibiotics are the same drugs as used in human antibiotics. I believe that adding fish antibiotics to my preps is a sound strategy. They are available, without a prescription, through many fish supply websites. I have purchased, or plan to purchase, the following:

  • Fish-Mox Forte (amoxicillin 500mg): used to treat infections of the ears, nose, throat, urinary tract, skin, pneumonia, and gonorrhea
  • Fish-Flex Forte (cephalexin 500mg): used to treat infections of the bone, ear, skin, urinary tract, and pneumonia; it has very low side effects, (it is typically safe for those with penicillin allergies)
  • Fish-Flox Forte (ciprofloxacin 500mg): used to treat infections of bones and joints, sinuses, skin, urinary tract, gastroenteritis (stomach ‘flu’), typhoid, plague, and anthrax
  • Aqua-Doxy (doxycycline 100mg): used to treat infections of the sinus and respiratory tract, skin (staph), urinary tract, intestines, chlamydia, anthrax, Rickettsia, Lyme disease, plague, and cholera
  • *Fish-Zole (metronidazole (Flagyl) 250mg): as an antiprotozoal, used to treat giardia and dysentery

For any medication you choose to stock (antibiotics or otherwise) print out the entire drug card and keep that information stored with the drug; a good online source of drug information is the U.S. National Library of Medicine. Also it’s always best to store them in the original package and, like food storage, keep in a dry, dark, cool place.

If you choose to add antibiotics to your preps it is your responsibility to be thoroughly educated about their usages, contradictions, doses, and side effects. This is something you can’t just buy and figure you have it if you need it. Obtain additional medical publications such as the Physicians Desk Reference (PDR) or Delmar Nurse’s Drug Handbook*. Antibiotics are drugs, taking an antibiotic is a medical treatment, do not take this lightly. When I was going through my Army medic training one of my instructors said, “Every medicine you put into the body is a toxin, be sure the benefits outweigh the risks.”

(Wednesday: Expired, or Not Expired; That Is The Question)

* There are many other good references available, these are just two examples. There is no reason to buy a current edition; older editions are much cheaper and have essentially all the information a layperson would ever need.