Lake Tahoe Chief’s Column: Carbon monoxide safety
Often called the silent killer, carbon monoxide (CO) is an invisible odorless, colorless gas created when fuels (such as gasoline, wood, coal, natural gas, propane, oil and methane) burn incompletely.
In the home, heating and cooking equipment that burn fuel can be sources of carbon monoxide.
The dangers of CO depend on several variables, including the person’s health and activity level. Infants, pregnant women and people with physical conditions that limit their body’s ability to use oxygen can be more severely affected by lower concentrations of CO than healthy adults would be.
A person can be poisoned by a small amount of CO over a longer period of time or by a large amount of CO over a shorter amount of time.
Low level CO poisoning can often be confused with flu symptoms, food poisoning and other illnesses. Some symptoms include shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, lightheadedness or headaches.
When extremely high CO levels are present, confusion, incapacitation and loss of consciousness can occur within minutes.
Have fuel-burning heating equipment and chimneys inspected by a professional every year before cold weather sets in. When using a fireplace, open the flue for adequate ventilation. Never use your oven to heat your home.
Other general safety tips to consider:
During and after a snowstorm, make sure vents for the dryer, furnace, stove, and fireplace are clear of snow build-up.
CO alarms should be installed in a central location outside each sleeping area and on every level of the home and in other locations where required by applicable laws, codes or standards. For the best protection, interconnect all CO alarms throughout the home. When one sounds, they all sound.
Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for placement and mounting height.
Choose a CO alarm that has the label of a recognized testing laboratory.
Test CO alarms at least once a month; replace them according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
If the audible trouble signal sounds, check for low batteries. If the battery is low, replace it. If it still sounds, call 911 to respond the fire district to ensure it working properly and there is no problem.
If the CO alarm sounds, immediately move to a fresh air location outdoors or by an open window or door. Make sure everyone inside the home is accounted for. Call 911 from a fresh air location and stay there until emergency personnel arrive.
If you need to warm a vehicle, remove it from the garage immediately after starting it. Do not run a vehicle or other fueled engine or motor indoors, even if garage doors are open. Make sure the exhaust pipe of a running vehicle is not covered with snow.
A generator should be used in a well-ventilated location outdoors away from windows, doors and vent openings.
Gas or charcoal grills can produce CO – only use them outside.
Ryan Sommers is fire chief of North Lake Tahoe Fire Protection District.