Close calls due to carbon monoxide poisoning

With two recent carbon monoxide poisoning incidents occurring in the Mountain Area, Cal Fire is urging the public to be aware of the dangers of using gas powered generators indoors.

Two Coarsegold residents were transported to a Fresno hospital following carbon monoxide poisoning on Dec. 21, and two additional people were transported Sunday night from the Bass Lake area for the same reason. All four patients survived. A gas generator was being used in the basement in the Coarsegold home, and a faulty wall heater was the source of carbon monoxide in the Bass Lake home.

Cal Fire/Madera County Fire Department Battalion Chief Troy Cheek stressed that carbon monoxide detectors can save lives.

“Every home should have a working carbon monoxide alarm to avoid the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.” Cheek said. “Not only can a carbon monoxide alarm save lives, it is the law in California that all homes be equipped with a detector. And all propane/gas appliances should be properly maintained. They only cost about $20 at an area hardware store - a small amount of money to save a life.”

A Raymond mother and her 9-year-old daughter, were saved in January, 2011, when their carbon monoxide detector alerted them..

Cheek said a limited supply of detectors are available to those who can not afford them, by contacting their area Cal Fire station.

Because carbon monoxide is odorless, and colorless, it is impossible to see, taste or smell the toxic fumes, and can kill a person before they are aware of it. Everyone is at risk for carbon monoxide poisoning. Medical experts believe that unborn babies, infants, children, senior citizens and people with heart or lung problems are at even greater risk for carbon monoxide poisoning.

At lower levels of exposure, carbon monoxide causes mild effects that are often mistaken for the flu. These symptoms include headaches, dizziness,disorientation, nausea and fatigue. The effects of carbon monoxide exposure can vary greatly from person to person depending on age, overall health and the concentration and length of exposure.

In both recent incidents, first responders were called due to ‘illness,’ with the home occupants unaware they were being poisoned by carbon monoxide.

Four Oakhurst family members, including two Oakhurst Elementary School students age 8 and 10, and their grandmother and uncle, died in their sleep due to carbon monoxide poisoning in January, 2011, from a gas powered generator placed in a crawl space in a house on Royal Oaks Drive.

What are some common sources of carbon monoxide?

Common causes of carbon monoxide production can be gas or oil appliances like a furnace, clothes dryer, range, oven, water heater, or space heaters that are not working properly. In these typical conditions, trace amounts of carbon monoxide produced by these sources are typically not dangerous. However, there are common conditions that can cause levels to rise quickly:

•  Vent, flue, or chimney is blocked by debris or snow.

•  Fireplace, wood burning stove, charcoal grill or other source of burning material is not properly vented.

•  Vehicle is left running in an attached garage and carbon monoxide seeps into the house

Protect yourself from carbon monoxide poisoning

•  Install at least one carbon monoxide detector with an audible warning signal near the sleeping areas and outside individual bedrooms. Carbon monoxide detector measure levels of carbon monoxide over time and are designed to sound an alarm before an average, healthy adult would experience symptoms. It is very possible that you may not be experiencing symptoms when you hear the detector activate. This does not mean that carbon monoxide is not present.

•  Have a qualified professional check all fuel burning appliances, furnaces, venting and chimney systems at least once a year.

•  Never use your range or oven to help heat your home and never use a charcoal grill or hibachi in your home or garage.

•  Never keep a car running in a garage. Even if the garage doors are open, normal circulation will not provide enough fresh air to reliably prevent a dangerous buildup of carbon monoxide.

What should I do when the carbon monoxide alarm sounds?

•  Silence the alarm. Call your emergency services, fire department, or 911 and tell them your carbon monoxide alarm has triggered. Move everyone immediately to fresh air - outdoors or by an open door or window. Do a head count to check that all persons are accounted for.

•  Do not re-enter the premises or move away from the open door or window until the emergency services responder has arrived, the premises have been aired out, and your carbon monoxide alarm remains in its normal condition.

Where should I install carbon monoxide detectors?

It is very important to install carbon monoxide detectors near or in each separate sleeping area. For added protection, placement of an additional carbon monoxide detector at least 15-20 feet away from the furnace or fuel burning heat sources is recommended. In two story houses, install one carbon monoxide alarm on each level of the home. If you have a basement a carbon monoxide detector is recommended at the top of the basement stairs.

Call any Cal Fire station in your area with any questions about the laws and regulations about carbon monoxide detectors. For those who can not afford a detector, a limited supply are available at Cal Fire stations.