Carbon monoxide, also known as CO, is called the "invisible killer" because it's a colorless, odorless, poisonous gas. This gas, when breathed in, is absorbed at a faster rate by our blood cells than oxygen.
Symptom severity is related to both the CO level and the duration of exposure. For slowly developing residential CO problems, occupants and/or physicians can mistake mild to moderate CO poisoning symptoms for the flu, which sometimes results in tragic deaths. For rapidly developing, high-level CO exposures (e.g. associated with use of generators in residential spaces), victims can rapidly become mentally confused, and can lose muscle control without having first experienced milder symptoms. They will likely die if not rescued.
According to information from the Consumer Products Safety Commission, more than 150 people in the Unites States die every year from accidental non-fire related CO poisoning associated with consumer products, including generators. Other products include faulty, improperly-used or incorrectly-vented fuel-burning appliances such as furnaces, stoves, water heaters and fireplaces.
Because CO is odorless, colorless, and otherwise undetectable to the human senses, people may not know that they are being exposed. The initial symptoms of low to moderate CO poisoning are similar to the flu (but without the fever). They include headache, fatigue, shortness of breath, nausea and dizziness.
High level CO poisoning can occur very quickly and results in progressively more severe symptoms, including mental confusion, vomiting, loss of muscular coordination, loss of consciousness, and ultimately death.
Safety tips to protect you family from expose to carbon monoxide are:
• Have your home heating systems (including chimneys and vents) inspected and serviced annually by a trained service technician.
• Never use portable generators inside homes or garages, even if doors and windows are open. Use generators outside only, far away from the home.
• Never bring a charcoal grill into the house for heating or cooking. Do not barbeque in the garage.
• Never use a gas range or oven for heating.
• Open the fireplace damper before lighting a fire and keep it open until the ashes are cool. An open damper may help prevent build-up of poisonous gases inside the home.
• Know the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning: headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, sleepiness and confusion. If you suspect CO poisoning, get outside to fresh air immediately, and then call 911.
Codes in the state of Florida require the installation of carbon monoxide detectors for new facilities that have attached garages, fire places or fossil-fuel fired appliances. For those with older homes, townhomes or other residential structures, there are battery powered carbon monoxide detectors available for purchase through the home supply stores such as Lowe’s, Home Depot, ACE Hardware and others.
CO detectors can be used in conjunction with smoke alarms in the home and should be installed in a similar manner, between the hazardous area and the living area.
Recommended CO detector practices are:
• Install battery-operated CO alarms or CO alarms with battery backup in your home outside each separate sleeping area.
• Install alarms on every level of the home.
• It is best to use interconnected alarms.
• When one sounds, all CO alarms in the home sound.
• Follow the instructions on the package to properly install the CO alarm.
• Test CO alarms at least once a month.
• Replace CO alarms according to the instructions on the package.
• Know the sounds the CO alarm makes. It will sound if CO is detected. It will make a different sound if the battery is low or if it is time to get a new CO alarm.
• If the battery is low, replace it.
• If the CO alarm sounds, you must get fresh air. Move outdoors, by an open window or near an open door. Make sure everyone in the home gets to fresh air. Call the fire department from a fresh air location. Stay there until help arrives.
If you would like more information about carbon monoxide detectors please contact your Maitland Fire Rescue Department at 407-539-6226. Our family helping yours – whatever it takes.
— By Dennis Marshall, Fire Marshal