Fire Department warning about carbon monoxide dangers during the winter

Enjoy cozy warmth while protecting your family this winter. Stock photo.

LUDLOW, Vt. – With the winter season in full swing, Ludlow Fire Chief Peter Kolenda is issuing a warning to homeowners about a silent and deadly killer. Consumers can avoid the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning by having their fuel-burning appliances inspected by a qualified technician every year, and by purchasing and installing CO detectors that meet the requirements of the Underwriters Laboratories standards.

Carbon monoxide poisoning from the use of fuel burning appliances kills over 100 people each year and sends many more to hospital emergency rooms for treatment.  Burning any fuel produces carbon monoxide, which is a colorless, odorless gas. The initial symptoms of CO poisoning are similar to the flu, and include dizziness, fatigue, headache, nausea, and irregular breathing. High-level exposure to carbon monoxide can cause death.

“Modern heating equipment is sophisticated and requires special training and tools for proper maintenance,” Kolenda said. “We recommend that you should not service your own appliances, but instead have a qualified professional perform an inspection.”

A yearly inspection of your home by a professional should include a careful look at the following sources of carbon monoxide:

Furnaces, hot water heaters and stoves:

If they burn natural gas, heating oil, wood, or other kinds of fuel, these appliances are potential sources of carbon monoxide.

Chimneys, flues, and vents:

Have flues and chimneys inspected before each heating season for leakage and for blockage by creosote or debris. Creosote buildup or leakage could cause black stains on the outside of the chimney or flue. These stains may mean that pollutants are leaking into the house. Have all vents to furnaces, water heaters, or boilers checked to make sure they are not loose or disconnected.

High temperature plastic venting pipes:

The industry has received reports that high temperature plastic venting (HTPV) pipes, which are used in mid-efficiency appliances, may separate or crack. This could allow carbon monoxide from the furnace to enter a home. Homeowners with a gas-fired mid-efficiency furnace or boiler installed between 1987 and 1993 should have them inspected for cracking or separating.

Improper ventilation:

Make sure that all appliances have adequate ventilation. A supply of fresh air is important to help carry pollutants up the chimney, stovepipe or flue, and is necessary for the complete combustion of any fuel.

Charcoal grills:

Be aware that charcoal grills can also be a potential source of carbon monoxide. Never use charcoal grills in enclosed spaces such as a home, garage, vehicle, or tent, and never bring grills with live coals indoors after use. Never use charcoal grills as an indoor heat source.

What to do in a CO emergency

If you are suffering from chronic flu-like symptoms, see your doctor and ask him/her if it could be a low-level CO poisoning. If you have a CO detector, and it alarms, open the windows and ventilate your home with fresh air and have your heating system checked by a professional. If your alarm sounds and you are feeling drowsy or dizzy, leave the house immediately and call 911 from a neighbor’s home. You may need medical attention for carbon monoxide poisoning.

“While carbon monoxide poisoning is a deadly threat, the hazards can be avoided by having a yearly professional inspection of your home fuel burning appliances and by installing a CO detector that meets the most recent UL standards,” Kolenda said.

For more information on CO dangers, please visit The Ludlow Fire Department staff wishes everyone a happy and safe winter season.

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