Along with winter weather come many invisible dangers, one of them being the threat of carbon monoxide poisoning.  People may try to heat their homes by leaving ovens open or heating appliances on, unaware of the risk that this invisible, toxic gas can cause.  You can’t see, taste, or smell the deadly fumes that can kill you before you are even aware it is in your home.  CO gas can come from several sources: charcoal grills, wood-burning fireplaces, gas-fired appliances, fireplaces and motor vehicles. 

Recently, five teens were found dead in a motel room they had rented to celebrate one of the teens’ 19th birthday.  There were no drugs, alcohol or suspicious items found in the room, according to law enforcement.  But, they had left their car running in a garage underneath the room.  Friends reported that earlier the car had needed a jump-start, and they probably left it running to preserve the battery’s charge.  A door leading to a staircase up to the room had been left open; high levels of CO gas were found inside. 

According to the U.S. Fire Administration, each year in America, unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning claims more than 400 lives and sends another 20,000 people to hospital emergency rooms for treatment.  Around 4,000 of those persons are sick enough to be hospitalized.  Symptoms of CO poisoning are headaches, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, chest pain, and confusion, as stated by the American College of Emergency Physicians.  They report that symptoms could imitate other illnesses, making it hard to recognize CO poisoning.  Persons living or working together that get these symptoms simultaneously over a short period of time may mistakenly think they have flu.  Everyone is at risk for CO poisoning.  Experts believe that unborn babies, infants, children, senior citizens and persons with heart or lung problems are at even greater risk for CO poisoning.  

The United States Fire Administration and National Association of Home Builders want you to know that there are simple steps you can take to protect yourself from deadly carbon monoxide fumes: 

  • Install at least one carbon monoxide alarm with an audible warning signal near sleeping areas and outside individual bedrooms.  Purchase an alarm that has been evaluated by a recognized laboratory, such as Underwriters Laboratories (UL.)
  • Never use the range or oven to heat the home, or a charcoal grill or hibachi in your home or garage.
  • Do not use portable flameless chemical (catalytic) heaters in your home.
  • Never use generators in your home, basement or garage, or near windows, doors or vents.
  • Never leave a car running in a garage.  Even with open doors, normal circulation will not provide enough fresh air to prevent a dangerous build up of CO.
  • Have a qualified professional check all fuel burning appliances, hot water heaters,  furnaces, vent and chimney systems at least once a year.
  • When purchasing an existing home, have a qualified technician evaluate the heating and cooking systems, as well as sealed spaces between the garage and house.   

In addition, the USFA and NAHB pass on these valuable instructions on what to do if your carbon monoxide alarm goes off: 

  1. Silence the alarm.
  2. Turn off all appliances and sources of combustion, (i.e. furnace and fireplace).
  3. Ventilate the house with fresh air by opening doors and windows.
  4. Call a qualified professional to investigate the source of possible CO buildup.

(The above instructions are applicable if no one is feeling ill.) 

If illness is a factor:

  1. Evacuate all occupants (including animals) immediately.
  2. Determine how many occupants are ill and establish their symptoms.
  3. Call your local emergency number and include the number of people feeling ill to the dispatcher.
  4. Do not re-enter the home without the approval of a fire department representative.
  5. Call a qualified professional to repair the source of the CO.   

If your carbon monoxide alarm goes off, it is very possible that you may not be experiencing symptoms when you hear the alarm; this does not mean that CO is not present!  Remember, having a carbon monoxide alarm in your home can save your life in the event of CO buildup! 

CO builds up quickly when a car or vehicle is running in a closed garage.  If you drive a vehicle with a tailgate, when you open the tailgate, open windows or vents to be sure air is moving through the vehicle.  If only the tailgate is open, CO from the exhaust will be pulled into the vehicle.  This important  information is from the Centers for Disease Control. 

With all these different agencies looking out for our safety, it seems it would only take a small amount of time and effort to follow their advice to purchase and install these carbon monoxide detectors.  It’s  a small price to pay that could result in such a rich reward if it saves the lives of those you love.