When the weather turns cold there are plenty of danger areas to monitor to keep your family warm and safe. Home fires occur most often in the winter months and without the proper life safety and fire protection systems your loved ones could be at risk. But one deadly threat stands out among the rest because it is completely invisible and can affect you without your knowledge, Carbon Monoxide (CO).
CO is found in fumes produced any time you burn fuel in cars or trucks, small engines, stoves, lanterns, grills, fireplaces, gas ranges, or furnaces. With colder weather many people will have increased the use of their fireplaces and furnaces so being mindful of the dangers that CO presents is critical.
CO is created when fuels such as kerosene, gasoline, coal, natural gas, propane, methane or wood do not burn completely. This can result from malfunctioning or improperly vented furnaces or portable generators and other heat generating appliances like water heaters, clothes dryers or a vehicle left running in the garage.
Everyone is at risk for CO poisoning. Infants, the elderly, people with chronic heart disease, anemia, or breathing problems are more likely to become sick from CO. Each year, more than 400 Americans die from unintentional CO poisoning not linked to fires. More than 20,000 visit the emergency room, and more than 4,000 are hospitalized. Carbon monoxide is a silent and deadly danger, and takes thousands of lives all around the world each year. The sad thing is that many carbon monoxide related deaths could have been avoided with some basic precautions and a little vigilance.
The most common symptoms of CO poisoning are headaches, dizziness, weakness, upset stomach, vomiting, chest pain, and confusion. CO symptoms are often described as “flu like.” If you breathe in a lot of CO it can make you pass out or kill you.
People who are sleeping or drunk can die from CO poisoning before they even experience symptoms. However, the fact that this gas is practically undetectable to the general public, along with the fact that the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are so non-specific can contribute to the level of danger that this gas carries. Once carbon monoxide has been breathed in, it replaces the oxygen in the blood, thus killing off cells and starving vital organs of oxygen. A large enough dose of this odorless, colorless and tasteless gas can kill within minutes.
Here are some handy Safety Tips to stay safe from Carbon Monoxide this Winter:
ü Use portable generators outdoors in well-ventilated areas away from the home
ü Make sure vents for the dryer, furnace, stove and fireplace are clear of debris
ü Have fuel-burning equipment and chimneys inspected by a professional each year
ü Never use an oven or stovetop to heat your home
ü Don’t leave vehicle engines idling in the garage, even if the garage door is open
ü Choose a carbon-monoxide alarm with the label of a recognized testing laboratory
ü Install and maintain carbon-monoxide alarms outside each sleeping area and on every level of the home
According to the 2005 edition of the carbon monoxide guidelines, NFPA 720, published by the National Fire Protection Association, sections 22.214.171.124 and 126.96.36.199, all CO detectors “shall be centrally located outside of each separate sleeping area in the immediate vicinity of the bedrooms,” and each detector “shall be located on the wall, ceiling or other location as specified in the installation instructions that accompany the unit.”
CO detectors are available as stand-alone models or system-connected and monitored devices. System-connected detectors, which can be wired to either a security or fire panel, are monitored by a central station. In case the residence is empty, the residents are sleeping or occupants are already suffering from the effects of CO, the central station can be alerted to the high concentrations of CO gas and can send the proper authorities to investigate.
The gas sensors in CO alarms have a limited and indeterminable life span, typically two to five years. The test button on a CO alarm only tests the battery and circuitry, not the sensor. CO alarms should be tested with an external source of calibrated test gas, as recommended by the latest version of NFPA 720. Alarms over five years old should be replaced but they should be checked on installation and at least annually during the manufacturer’s warranty period.
It is important to remember that learning more about the dangers of carbon monoxide can go a long way toward helping you to avoid these dangers, or to take appropriate action should you be affected by this gas. This in turn could help to prevent serious and long term damage, and could even help to save lives.
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