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From the Fire Marshal’s Office: Carbon Monoxide – The Silent Killer

Carbon Monoxide (CO) is often called “the silent killer” as it is an invisible, colorless, odorless gas that is created when fuels do not burn completely.  CO can result from faulty furnaces or other heating appliances, portable generators, water heaters, clothes dryers, fireplaces, blocked chimneys, or cars that are left running in garages.  Each year hundreds of people die from carbon monoxide poisoning.  The symptoms from breathing CO include drowsiness, headache, vomiting, loss of consciousness, fatigue and nausea.  High levels can cause severe illness or death within minutes.  Carbon monoxide is harmful when breathed because it attaches to hemoglobin, the part of the blood that carries oxygen to the brain, heart, and other vital organs.  CO displaces the oxygen, thus depriving the body of this much needed element.  All too often, people who have mild or moderate problems with carbon monoxide find that they feel sick while they spend time at home, but when going outside, begin to feel much better.  Then, shortly after returning home, the symptoms reoccur.  People who are most susceptible to the effects of carbon monoxide are infants, the elderly, those who suffer from respiratory or heart disease, are anemic and women who are pregnant.  However, no one is immune to the effects of carbon monoxide.

To avoid carbon monoxide poisoning, take these preventative measures.  At the beginning of every heating season, be sure to have fuel burning equipment such as oil or gas fired furnaces, fireplaces and wood stoves inspected by certified technicians.  Be sure appliances such as water heaters, oven ranges, and clothes dryers are working properly.  Have flues and chimneys checked for any buildup of creosote or blockage of the chimney.  Be sure to maintain all fuel-fired equipment as described by the manufacturer’s specifications.  NEVER leave a car running in an attached garage.  The vapors from the vehicle’s exhaust could increase the level of carbon monoxide in a home in a matter of minutes!  NEVER use a gas stove to heat a home in the event of a power failure or heating equipment failure.  NEVER use charcoal or propane grills indoors.  Not only does this pose an extreme carbon monoxide hazard, it is also a severe fire hazard as well.  Think safety first when considering the use of alternative heating, such as space heaters.  The space heater should be placed at a minimum of three feet from any combustible object.  Make sure that all fuel-fired space heaters are equipped with oxygen depletion sensors.  Do not use gasoline-powered equipment in enclosed areas of the home.  Such engines create a large amount of carbon monoxide.

Place a carbon monoxide detector on every level of the home.  Follow the manufacturer’s recommendation when installing the alarms.

Should you suspect that there is an increased level of carbon monoxide in your home, or you have installed the recommended carbon monoxide alarms in your residence and the alarm sounds, follow these simple steps to help resolve the problem.  First and foremost, leave the building!  Then, CALL 9-1-1.  This important step will allow trained first responders to investigate the possible presence of carbon monoxide.  Many times, calls will be made directly to a volunteer firehouse, which will delay the response of emergency personnel.  When asked why 9-1-1 was not called, the homeowner often states that he did not think this type of situation was considered an emergency that warranted such a call, when in reality, it does!  Get any suspected victim into fresh air immediately.  If you can not get the victim out of the house, open all of the windows and doors to allow fresh air into the home.  Be sure to turn off any fuel-fired appliances.  Those persons who have been exposed to elevated levels of carbon monoxide should be taken to the closest hospital as soon as possible.  A simple blood test will determine the amount of carbon monoxide in the bloodstream.

The Fire Marshal’s Office has free CO alarms available for Orange residents.  If interested, please contact the Orange Fire Marshal’s Office at (203) 891-4711 or visit the website at for additional information.

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