TAHOE/TRUCKEE, Calif., — “Carbon monoxide, AKA CO, is widely known as the senseless killer because you can’t see it, taste it, or smell it,” said Calfire Unit Chief Mike Kaslin of the Amador-El Dorado Unit. “Annually, over 400 people die and another 20,000 are hospitalized due to CO poisoning … CO is the result of combustion (burning) of a fuel such as wood burning fireplaces, gas furnace, gas water heaters, gas stoves and ovens, portable generators, barbecue grills — even your running car or truck. The fumes from the combustion contain CO gas and when a person breaths this gas in, they are subject to CO poisoning.”
According to Chief Kaslin if you are exposed to high levels of CO, you may feel flu-like symptoms such as a headache, nausea, shortness of breath, dizziness or light headedness. CO replaces the oxygen in the red blood cells, which in turn does not allow oxygen to reach vital organs.
A person’s red blood cells actually bond with CO more easily than with oxygen.
High levels of CO can kill a person in minutes. It is the number one cause of unintentional death by poison in the U.S.
If you suspect CO poisoning, get the person or persons to fresh air immediately, then call 911. In some cases CO poisoning can cause permanent brain and heart damage.
As of July 1, 2011, carbon monoxide alarms in single family dwellings are required. Minimally, you should have CO alarms outside each sleeping area and on each level of your home including the basement.
Put a CO alarm in each sleeping area. If they are plug-ins, test them once a month and if they have a battery backup, change that battery annually. Don’t forget to vacuum the alarms often to keep them in proper working order.
According to a North Tahoe Fire press release, “Dangerous levels of carbon monoxide can build up from any fuel-burning appliance or equipment if it isn’t working properly, or if the CO that is produced isn’t conducted safely to the outside. For example, if there isn’t enough oxygen available to run your furnace, the rate of CO production can greatly increase.”
The release also stated, “Early warning of hazardous CO levels is very important, but prevention comes first. Know what you need to do to ensure your home is safe from CO.”
Never use a barbecue or outdoor space heater in your home or garage.
Do not leave your vehicle running in your garage, even for a few minutes.
Never heat your room or home with your kitchen oven.
Have your home heating system checked by a professional annually.
Have your wood burning stove or fire place professionally cleaned annually.
Open the flue before using the fireplace.
If you use a kerosene or gas heater, open a window slightly when the heater is in use.
“If your CO alarm sounds: Get everyone out of the house and call 911,” Chief Kaslin advised. “If you cannot physically leave the house, move to an open doorway or open a window and stay there. Call 911. Do not close the window or door. Never reenter the structure until the fire department has said it is okay, that is our job and we are more than happy to do it.”
In Truckee, Det. Arnie Lopez and Fire Prevention Officer Paul Spencer, along with Chief Building Official Johnny Goetz, visited residents to distribute both smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors. If you need a smoke detector or carbon monoxide detector, stop by any Truckee Fire station or the Town Building Department at Town Hall.
Combination smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors are available in stores and online.
For non-emergency questions regarding carbon monoxide, contact the North Tahoe Fire District, Division of Fire & Life Safety at 530-583-6913.
For more information about CO poisoning and prevention, visit the Center for Disease Controls website at www.cdc.gov/co.