NFPA Report: CO Incidents Up

Citing a research report looking at non-fire carbon monoxide incidents, the National Fire Protection Association issued a reminder yesterday alerting the public to be aware of the risks associated with exposure to this colorless, odorless, toxic gas and providing tips for avoiding unsafe levels of it. According to the report, fire departments responded to an estimated 61,100 CO incidents in 2005, an 18 percent increase from 2003. This increase is believed to be due in part to more reporting and recording of such incidents as more people install equipment that warns of unsafe levels of the gas. The report also found nearly 90 percent of all non-fire CO incidents reported to fire departments during that year occurred in homes.

"Installing an alarm to warn of unsafe levels of carbon monoxide in your home is especially important because this colorless, odorless gas is toxic," said Lorraine Carli, NFPA's vice president of communications. "Physical symptoms can sometime mirror other illnesses. You might think you have the flu and go to bed, not knowing your house is filling with poisonous gas that could kill you. A few precautions can save lives.”

NFPA suggests the following safety tips:

Inside the home

  • Install CO alarms (listed by an independent testing laboratory) inside your home to provide early warning of accumulating CO. CO alarms should be installed in a central location outside each separate sleeping area. If bedrooms are spaced apart, each area will need a CO alarm.
  • Test CO alarms at least once a month and replace CO alarms according to the manufacturer's instructions.
  • CO alarms are not substitutes for smoke alarms. Know the difference between the sound of smoke alarms and CO alarms.
  • Have fuel-burning heating equipment (fireplaces, furnaces, water heaters, wood and coal stoves, space or portable heaters) and chimneys inspected by a professional every year before cold weather sets in.
  • When purchasing new heating and cooking equipment, select products tested and labeled by a recognized testing laboratory.
  • When using a fireplace, open the flue for adequate ventilation.
  • Never use your oven to heat your home.
  • Call your local fire department's non-emergency number to find out what number to call if the CO alarm sounds. Post that number by your telephone(s). Make sure everyone in the household knows the difference between the fire emergency and CO emergency numbers (if there is a difference).
  • When buying an existing home, have a qualified technician evaluate the integrity of the heating and cooking systems, as well as the sealed spaces between the garage and house.

Outside the home

  • If you need to warm a vehicle, remove it from the garage immediately after starting it. Do not run a vehicle, generator, 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.
  • Generators should be operated in well ventilated locations outdoors away from all doors, windows and vent openings.
  • During and after a snowstorm, make sure vents for the dryer, furnace, stove, and fireplace are clear of snow build-up.
  • Only use barbecue grills – which can produce CO – outside. Never use them in the home, garage or near building openings.
  • When camping, remember to use battery-powered lights in tents, trailers, and motor homes.

If your CO alarm sounds

  • Immediately move to a fresh air location outdoors or by an open window or door. Call for help from a fresh air location. Remain at a fresh air location until emergency personnel arrives to assist you.
  • If the audible trouble signal sounds, check for low batteries or other trouble indicators.

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