"Carbon Monoxide (CO) is a very dangerous threat to the life and health of both firefighters and citizens. Because it cannot be seen and has no odor, it can be a silent killer."
Carbon Monoxide is a result of the combustion of burning material that is incomplete, such as when there is inadequate oxygen to feed a fire. Simply put, if materials burn, but there is inadequate oxygen to feed the fire such as in an enclosed area, carbon monoxide is produced.
Some sources of carbon monoxide you may find in your home are:
- Gas water heaters, stoves and dryers
- Gas powered generators
- Fireplaces, woodstoves, and charcoal grills
- Non-electric, fuel-fired furnaces
People and animals that breathe the carbon monoxide do not sense the life-threatening gas. As a result, the CO particles will bind with the red blood cells preventing them from carrying oxygen throughout your body. The red blood cells (hemoglobin) in your blood are the carrier by which oxygen is moved throughout your body, to your brain, your heart, muscles, and other vital organs. Oxygen binds to the red blood cells to start the process. However, carbon monoxide also binds to the red blood cells in the same manner, thereby occupying the space needed by the oxygen. If not corrected by moving the victim into fresh and normal air, this eventually will cause little or no oxygen to be transported throughout the body. This will cause death if not corrected, making this a very serious threat to the safety and health of both citizens and firefighters.
Some signs and symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning may include:
- Generally feeling poorly
- Feelings of lethargy (abnormally sleepy with no energy to get up and go)
Usually these signs and symptoms disappear after going outside and breathing fresh air for a while. If any of these signs and symptoms appear, especially if you have an enclosed heating source in your home such as a gas heater or radiator, then you and all occupants of the home should leave the house immediately. If you begin to feel better, then you may have a carbon monoxide exposure. Regardless, proceed to a neighbor's house or use your mobile phone to call 911 and request the fire department. If you are experiencing any signs and symptoms, then request an ambulance. The fire department will respond and evaluate your home for a possible carbon monoxide exposure. Do not go back inside the house.
PREVENTING CARBON MONOXIDE
Avoiding certain activities can help prevent build-up of carbon monoxide.
Don't run your car in an enclosed space, even if it is a garage with the garage door open. Pull the car out or shut the car off.
Don't use a charcoal or gas-powered grill inside your house or inside a tent. Use it outside or under a shelter with plenty of room for cross-ventilation such as natural wind and fresh air.
Have your heating equipment checked regularly by professionals, according to the manufacturer's instructions.
An undersized exhaust vent in a water heater or furnace can interfere with the removal of carbon monoxide, causing a backflow into your home. If you replace a furnace or gas-powered device, insure the exhaust system is up to current code standards.
Just like there are smoke detectors, there are now carbon monoxide detectors. They look similar to smoke detectors. You may be able to purchase a combination smoke and carbon monoxide detector. Some may plug into the electrical outlet, while some may operate on batteries alone. It is recommended to have some of both in your home. Have one installed near your sleeping area. Have additional ones installed on each level of your home.
WHAT TO DO IF YOU THINK YOU HAVE A CARBON MONOXIDE EXPOSURE
You and all persons in your home should leave immediately. Go outside and breathe some fresh air.
Call 911 and request the fire department. If anyone is nauseated, dizzy, unusually sleepy or unconscious, tell them you need an ambulance as well.
Stay outside until the fire department arrives. Do not go back inside the house, whether you begin to feel better or not.
WHAT TO EXPECT IF YOU HAVE A CARBON MONOXIDE EXPOSURE
Call 911. The fire department will arrive and, wearing respiratory protection for themselves, such as a self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) will use an air monitor to examine each room of your house from floor to ceiling. This device will report the exact parts-per-million reading of carbon monoxide in your home. The maximum safe level of carbon monoxide in the home is less that 30 parts per million. It is desirable for there to be no level of detectable carbon monoxide.
The fire department will report to you their findings and will make a recommendation. If there is little or no carbon monoxide detected and if your signs and symptoms persist after exiting your home, then you may consider reentering your home and calling the gas company for further assistance. If there is little or no carbon monoxide detected and your signs and symptoms disappear after breathing fresh air, then it is recommended to contact the gas company for further evaluation before reentering the home. If there is carbon monoxide detected, the fire department will turn the natural gas supply off at the meter to prevent any further exposure. They will also open as many doors and windows necessary to naturally ventilate the house to remove the dangerous carbon monoxide. After a few minutes of ventilation, the fire department will recheck the carbon monoxide levels. If they are then at normal levels, then they may allow you to return to your home to retrieve some items necessary to temporarily relocate, with the strong recommendation to not turn the natural gas back on until all related equipment can be checked by a qualified technician and that you relocated elsewhere until then.
Finally, after insuring there are no other hazards, they fire department will gather information and return to the station and prepare a full fire report for your insurance purposes, if necessary.
For more information, visit the U. S. Fire Administration.