Wheeling Fire Department Urges Installation of Carbon Monoxide Detectors

Photo by Scott McCloskey Carbon monoxide (CO) detectors such as these come in a variety of models.

WHEELING — Placing carbon monoxide (CO) detectors on each floor of a home near sleeping areas can be a life-saving decision, according to Ohio Valley and national fire safety officials.

Often called the invisible killer, carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless gas created when fuels (such as gasoline, wood, coal, natural gas, propane, oil and methane) burn incompletely, according to the National Fire Protection Agency.

In the home, heating and cooking equipment that burn fuel are potential sources of carbon monoxide. Vehicles or generators running in an attached garage also can produce dangerous levels of the gas.

Wheeling Assistant Fire Chief Ed Geisel said the beginning of the fall season is a good time of the year to remind people about the importance of carbon monoxide detection and smoke alarms because it also is the time when most are burning a larger amount of fuel while the house is sealed.

However, he said, CO poisoning can happen anytime with the use of fuel-burning appliances, such as hot water tanks or gas stoves.

“Most people think of it more in the winter months, but (carbon monoxide occurrence) can happen at any time,” Geisel said.

He said while some associate CO with bigger home items, such as furnaces, smaller appliances can cause just as big of a carbon monoxide issue.

Every year, more than 200 people in the United States die from CO produced by fuel-burning appliances, according to the West Virginia State Fire Marshal’s office and the U.S. Product Safety Commission. Others die from CO produced by cars left running in a garage or burning charcoal inside a home, garage, vehicle or tent.

According to the NFPA, although the popularity of carbon monoxide (CO) alarms has been growing in recent years, not everyone is familiar with the hazards of carbon monoxide poisoning in the home. The dangers of CO exposure depend on a number of variables, including the victim’s health and activity level. 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, the agency says.

Geisel said it is a necessity to place CO detectors in or near sleeping areas so people can be alerted easily. He said the state of West Virginia passed a law that requires any home that has a fuel burning appliance to have carbon monoxide detectors, too. In the case of the state law, a burning appliance can be a gas stove, gas water heater, gas furnace, fireplace or even a parked car in a garage.

Geisel said businesses are not required to have them but they are highly recommended. He also said he has seen a lot of illnesses and a several deaths related to CO poisoning in the Ohio Valley during his firefighting career.

The assistant chief said everyone should leave a home and call 911 if a carbon monoxide detector goes off. Geisel said it is better to get out of a structure and let fire safety officials monitor a home while the doors and windows are still closed. He said that will allow officials to get an accurate CO reading inside the structure before venting it and will allow them to find the source of the problem.

“Evacuate the building, especially if you’re feeling sick,” Geisel said. “Call us … we’ll come with a (CO) meter and we will check to see if there is a level (of CO) or what the cause is that caused the detector to go off. … It might be just a bad detector.”

Geisel said installing the carbon monoxide detectors according to manufactures’ recommendations is important. Some CO detector models look similar to smoke alarms. In fact, he said, some models will work as both a carbon monoxide and smoke detector.

Some other safety tips provided by the state Fire Marshal’s office and the Safety Commission include:

∫ Never use gas appliances, such as ranges, ovens or clothes dryers for heating your home.

∫ Never leave a car running in an attached garage, even with the garage door open.

∫ Have the heating system (including chimneys and vents) inspected and serviced annually.

∫ Install CO detectors that meet UL (Underwriters Laboratories) requirements and install all appliances according to manufacturers’ instructions and building codes.

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