Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

When temperatures drop, the calls go up for North Metro Fire Rescue District as the risk for carbon monoxide poisoning increases.  Carbon monoxide (CO) is an odorless, poisonous gas that’s produced when fuels such as coal, wood, charcoal, oil, kerosene, propane and natural gas don’t completely burn off. Many common items including portable fuel-powered generators and heaters, furnaces, grills, cars and lawn mowers can produce carbon monoxide.

Unlike if you had a natural gas leak, carbon monoxide carries no smell and can go undetected if you don’t have working CO alarms in your home. Over 150 people in the United States die every year from CO produced by consumer products, and thousands are sent to the emergency room with CO poisoning (Consumer Product Safety Commission).

Here are some tips to help keep your family safe from CO poisoning:

  • Install certified CO alarms, according to the manufacturer’s instructions, outside each sleeping area and on every level of the home (Colorado law requires an alarm within 15 feet of each sleeping room when the house has an attached garage, fireplace or fuel-powered appliance).  
  • Test CO alarms monthly like you would your smoke alarms, and change the batteries out twice a year. Alarms should be replaced according to your manufacturer’s instructions..
  • If your CO alarm sounds, go outside immediately and call 911. If you can’t get outside, get fresh air through an open window.
  • When running fuel-powered equipment or your vehicle, make sure it isn’t in or near an enclosed area (such as a closed garage or indoors) that would keep the carbon monoxide gas from escaping. Even with open doors and windows, these spaces can trap CO and allow it to quickly build to lethal levels.
  • Make sure vents for the dryer, furnace, stove and fireplace are clear of debris, including snow during and after a snowstorm.
  • Don’t use your oven or stove to heat your home.
  • Have heating equipment and chimneys professionally inspected every year before winter.

Symptoms of CO poisoning initially can be similar to flu symptoms, including: headache, fatigue, shortness of breath, nausea and dizziness. With higher levels of poisoning, a victim may experience mental confusion, vomiting, lack of coordination and eventually may die without access to fresh air and medical attention. If you experience these symptoms, get outside immediately and call 911 for assistance.  

Sources: Consumer Product Safety Commission and National Fire Protection Association