Keep your family safe from carbon monoxide

  • Published
  • By Timothy Johnson
  • Fire Prevention Office
Carbon monoxide, or CO, is an odorless, colorless, tasteless gas that can kill you and your family. Each year 400 Americans die from unintentional CO poisoning, there are more than 20,000 visits to the emergency room and more than 4,000 are hospitalized. We're here to help you keep your family safe!

What exactly is carbon monoxide? Carbon monoxide is a by-product (fumes) of the burning of fuels. Examples are automobiles, heating appliances, portable generators, stoves, dryers, fireplaces and many more. If any of these devices are faulty or the area is poorly ventilated, a build-up of carbon monoxide poisonous gas can occur. The longer the build-up occurs, the more deadly it can become. 

How does carbon monoxide hurt your body?  When you breathe clean air, your body takes in oxygen and it attaches to your blood hemoglobin. The blood carries this oxygen to your body's cells and keeps you healthy. When you breathe poisonous carbon monoxide gas, the carbon monoxide replaces the oxygen in your hemoglobin. Now your body carries "dirty" non-oxygenated blood to your cells. When vital organs like your brain and heart don't receive oxygen, your body starts to die. As this happens, your body shows signs and symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning. 

Since you can't see, smell or taste carbon monoxide, what are some signs and symptoms of exposure to carbon monoxide? Headaches, flu-like symptoms (without a temperature), dizziness, memory problems, difficulty breathing and eventual loss of consciousness or death can occur. If you feel or witness any of these signs or symptoms (especially in multiple people in the same area) move everyone away from the possible CO gas source and get to fresh air. Call 911 and have the fire department come check the area. Get medical treatment for possible carbon monoxide poisoning.

Note: If symptoms improve while you are away from home on a vacation, or are seasonal when heating appliances are used, you may have a carbon monoxide leak. Get your appliances checked!

Ways to protect you and your family:

1. Buy a battery-operated carbon monoxide detector. Price range is from $19.99 and up. Make sure they are near an area where the alarm will wake you from sleep.  Check or replace the battery when you change the batteries in your smoke detectors and clocks. Consider buying a detector with a digital readout. This will tell you the highest level of CO concentration in your home and what level it alarmed at.  Replace your CO detector every five years.
2. Have your heating systems (furnace, water heater and other appliances) serviced by a qualified technician each year.
3. Make sure your gas appliances are vented properly.
4. Have your chimney checked or cleaned every year. Chimneys can be blocked by debris causing CO build-up in your home.
5. Never use a gas range or portable gas camp stove for heating.
6. Never run a generator inside your home, basement or garage without proper ventilation nearby.
7. When warming a vehicle in cold weather, remove it from the garage. Having the garage door open still doesn't guarantee CO isn't entering your home. Also ensure you do not have the back tailgate or windows down as CO could go inside your vehicle.      

Note: If your CO alarm sounds look at the digital readout, leave the area and call 911. Do not go back in to open all the windows. Tell the fire department or technician what ppm (parts per million) the detector alarmed.

In summary, there are many serious dangers of carbon monoxide. Knowing what carbon monoxide is and what causes hazardous conditions in your home can keep your family safe. Get yearly appliance checks and use appliances as they are intended to be used. Buy and install a CO detector to help protect your family from the poisonous gas you cannot see, smell or taste.

If anyone in your family shows signs and symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning, dial 911 from a duty/housing phone, and dial 661-277-4540/4541 from a cell phone...  Keep your family safe from carbon monoxide! For any additional information, call the Fire Prevention office at 661-277-3643.