It's a fairly common occurrence for the fire department to get called out to a home or business because of a carbon monoxide alarm.
Sometimes, it is simply that the alarm was defective and there was no carbon monoxide detected. But it spotlights an often overlooked danger in the season of chimney fires and frostbite: carbon monoxide poisoning.
Carbon monoxide (CO) is a poisonous gas that typically comes from heating equipment, gas stoves, fireplaces and hot water heaters and generators, among other fuel-burning items. It's also found in automobile emissions. Winter is the peak month for carbon monoxide emergencies, and fire departments deal with thousands of such emergencies across Massachusetts each winter.
Unlike other gasses, carbon monoxide has no odor or color, making it impossible to detect without a special detector. Carbon monoxide decreases the oxygen in the blood, slowly suffocating its victims.
Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include headache, dizziness, nausea and flu-like symptoms.
Here are some tips for preventing carbon monoxide poisoning, from the National Fire Protection Association:
- CO alarms should be installed in a central location outside each sleeping area and on every level of the home and in other locations where required by applicable laws, codes or standards. For the best protection, interconnect all CO alarms throughout the home. When one sounds, they all sound.
- Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for placement and mounting height.
- Choose a CO alarm that has the label of a recognized testing laboratory.
- Call your local fire department’s non-emergency number to find out what number to call if the CO alarm sounds.
- Test CO alarms at least once a month; replace them according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
- If the audible trouble signal sounds, check for low batteries. If the battery is low, replace it. If it still sounds, call the fire department.
- If the CO alarm sounds, immediately move to a fresh air location outdoors or by an open window or door. Make sure everyone inside the home is accounted for. Call for help from a fresh air location and stay there until emergency personnel.
- If you need to warm a vehicle, remove it from the garage immediately after starting it. Do not run a vehicle or other fueled engine or motor indoors, even if garage doors are open. Make sure the exhaust pipe of a running vehicle is not covered with snow.
- During and after a snowstorm, make sure vents for the dryer, furnace, stove, and fireplace are clear of snow build-up.
- A generator should be used in a well-ventilated location outdoors away from windows, doors and vent openings.
- Gas or charcoal grills can produce CO — only use outside.