Fully Involved: Inspect, protect and detect
Ryan Summerlin April 30, 2013
Have a qualified technician inspect fuel-burning appliances once a year
• Fuel-burning appliances such as furnaces, hot water heaters and stoves require yearly maintenance. Over time, components can become damaged or deteriorate. A qualified technician can identify and repair problems with your fuel-burning appliances.
• Avoid placing your CO alarm directly on top of or directly across from fuel-burning appliances.
Protect your home by purchasing and installing a CO alarm
• Purchase and install UL-LISTED CO alarms outside each sleeping area and on every level of the home, including the basement and any other locations required by applicable laws; be sure to read the manufacturer’s instructions carefully before installing the alarm.
• If you already have CO alarms installed in your home, make sure to test them monthly and replace the battery at least once a year or as recommended by manufacturer.
Be prepared should your CO alarm detect a problem
• If your alarm sounds, immediately open windows for doors and ventilation and move to a fresh air location outdoors. Make sure everyone from inside the home is accounted for. Call for help from a fresh air location and stay there until emergency personnel arrive.
• Do not be surprised if the firefighters close doors and windows to try to recreate what caused the alarm. They are working to track down the problem.
• If anyone in the home is experiencing symptoms of CO poisoning – headache, dizziness or other flu-like symptoms – immediately evacuate the house, call the fire department and seek medical attention.
• Be alert to some of the danger signs that signal a CO problem:
• Streaks of carbon or soot around the service door of your fuel-burning appliances
• Moisture collecting on the windows and walls of furnace rooms
• Fallen soot from the fireplace or small amounts of water leaking from the base of the chimney
“Family dead from CO in vacation home from faulty heater”…“Man dies in townhome-CO from generator exhaust”…“Damaged equipment sends two to clinic from CO”…“Car exhaust from garage kills one”…
Headlines like these are all too frequent occurrences, and it is not always during cold weather.
Carbon monoxide, or CO, is an odorless, tasteless and invisible byproduct of incomplete combustion of carbon based fuels such as wood, natural gas, automotive fuels, and propane. Over 15,000 people go the Emergency Department each year with symptoms such as nausea, headaches, fatigue, dizziness, or shortness of breath from CO poisoning, often mistaking it for the flu. Such symptoms can take hours of exposure before ever being felt. People who are sleeping or intoxicated can die from CO poisoning before ever experiencing symptoms. Only about half the homes in the U.S. have CO detectors and many falsely believe that they can detect CO with their senses. CO can only be detected by properly installed and maintained CO detectors and special instruments.
In 2009, the Colorado Legislature passed the “Lofgren and Johnson Families Carbon Monoxide Safety Act” after a family of four died in their vacation home and a student died in her apartment. This law requires functioning CO detectors within 15 feet of all sleeping areas (not just bedrooms) in new single or multifamily residential and rental units if they have fuel operated heating equipment or an attached garage. The act also requires CO detectors be added when older residences are sold or remodeled. CO detectors have a lifespan of about 5 years before they start to experience failure and my leave you unprotected. Check the date on the detector to determine if it’s time to replace it.
Carbon monoxide detectors are an important component in keeping your loved ones safe, in addition to functioning smoke detectors and a family escape plan. It also might help if you understand the difference between smoke and CO detectors.
A smoke detector is telling you to get out now. A CO detector starts to warn you of increased levels of CO, allowing you time to get help before it becomes an emergency. As long as no one is displaying any symptoms of CO poisoning, you can carefully and safely evacuate the area and call 9-1-1 for fire department assistance. Never ignore a detector in alarm, or wait until you start to feel symptoms before calling 9-1-1.
Please review the following suggestions from the National Fire Protection Association and be safe. If you need assistance with your CO detectors or have questions about them, call your local fire department.
— Reproduced from NFPA’s website
Todd Holzwarth is currently the chief at East Grand Fire Protection District No. 4. He joined as a Volunteer Firefighter in 1974, and has served as the Fire Chief for the past 18 years.