Winter Fire Safety Series: Carbon Monoxide Detectors

This blog is the sixth and final blog in a multipart series directed towards fire safety and prevention for the winter season. Within this blog, the dangers of the colorless, odorless, and toxic gas know as Carbon Monoxide. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), an estimated 2,100 people die annually due to accidental Carbon Monoxide exposure.

Carbon Monoxide (CO) is produced when fossil fuels such as gasoline, wood, coal, propane, oil, or methane burn incompletely. Heating and cooking appliances within the home can produce  CO if damaged or used inappropriately. Everyday highway vehicles such as cars, trucks, tractors, and other gas burning motors produce CO.

Carbon Monoxide affects the human body by suffocating it. CO replaces the oxygen within the blood, which causes the body to poison itself by cutting off the oxygen that is necessary for the everyday function of organs and cells. Low-level CO poisoning results in flu-like symptoms, where more serious exposure results in dizziness, disorientation, severe headaches, fainting, and death.

Carbon Monoxide detectors work by measuring the amount of CO gas that has accumulated within a given area. CO detectors sound an alarm when the concentration of CO in the air is equal to or above the lowest level of CO poisoning, or 10% carboxyhemoglobin level in the blood. This lowest level of sensitivity can cause the alarm to sound before symptoms actually appear; therefore, all alarms should be taken seriously.

Residential Carbon Monoxide detectors could greatly reduce the number of deaths resulting from unintentional CO exposure. When purchasing a CO detector, only units that have been tested by qualified testing laboratories should be considered. The manufacturers installation instructions should be followed, and the CO detector should be tested once a month to ensure proper operation.

Following these safety tips will help to prevent CO exposure within your home:

  • Do not run motors indoors; even if the garage doors are open. Also, have your vehicles checked for exhaust leaks.
  • Inspect and repair chimneys, fireplaces, wood stoves, and other home heating appliances that use fossil fuels. Also, double check to make sure you home heating appliances have adequate ventilation.
  • Never use gas or charcoal barbecue grills indoors or within the garage, even if the garage doors are open.

Carbon Monoxide detectors only detect CO gas; they do not prevent the existence of CO gas. Use caution and follow safety guidelines to ensure that CO poisoning is adequately prevented within your home.

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