While flames in the cabin pretty much assure a bad day, such events are thankfully very rare. Much more common when an in-flight fire erupts are smoke and fumes in the cabin, and they are potential killers.
Carbon monoxide, a byproduct of hydrocarbon combustion, combines with hemoglobin in red blood cells to displace the oxygen they normally carry. Burning fabrics such as wool release toxic cyanide gas, and smoldering plastic can generate hydrochloric acid and phosgene gas (a nerve poison) as well as blinding, thick black smoke.
Pilots should consider carrying personal breathing equipment (PBE) for standby use. For example, a portable smoke hood may be stored under a seat or in a flight bag for emergency use. Pictured at right, the seal around the neck is designed to keep out noxious gases and the hood acts as insulation from the fire itself. A smoke hood provides clean air for breathing and heat protection for the head.
In addition, protective clothing like flight suits and gloves made of Nomex, required for military and law enforcement pilots, should be considered, as well as a portable fire extinguisher mounted within easy reach of the pilot. For aviation use, choose an extinguisher dispensing Halon, like the H3R unit at right, and aim it at the base of the fire.