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Free smoke and CO detectors still available
new deh fire department grant update pic
Representatives of the Great Bend Fire Department and Kansas Gas Service met Monday at Great Bend Fire Station Number 2. They are trying to raise awareness of the need for smoke and CO detectors in homes and a grant that makes possible free detectors to Great Bend residents. - photo by COURTESY PHOTO

The Great Bend Fire Department is still trying to give away a little peace of mind.

The GBFD recently received a grant as part of a statewide effort by health and safety officials to get fire alarms and carbon monoxide detectors in every home in Kansas. The funds came from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment’s Kansas Fire Injury Prevention Program and bought 125 smoke and 250 CO alarms for the department to distribute.

Even though these are available free to residents within the city limits, they still have 70 smoke alarms and 200 CO detectors available, said GBFD Battalion Chief Eugene Perkins. Firefighters started installation at the beginning of this month.

"These can mean the difference between life and death," Perkins said.

The goal of the program, according to the KDHE, is provide money for Kansas communities to reduce fire/CO-related injuries. It is funded by a federal grant from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The funds go to fire departments and other organizations charged with tending to public safety.

Perkins said the local effort is intended for single-family residents and apartment complexes are not eligible. "However, everyone else may apply."

Priority will be given to applicants who have small children, elderly or handicapped persons living in the home. A applicant can ask for one device or the other, or both.

Sixty-five percent of home fire deaths happen in homes with no smoke alarms at all or no smoke alarms that work, the KDHE reports. Smoke alarms have played a vital role in reducing fire deaths and injuries, and have contributed to an almost 50 percent decrease in fire deaths since the late 1970s.

Since the program started in 2001, 20,000 smoke detectors have been installed and are credited with saving 27 lives.

In 2006, the most recent year that national statistics are available, unintentional injuries were the fifth leading cause of death for Kansans. In the 1-44 age group, unintentional injuries are the leading causes of death nationally and in Kansas.

In 2006, the Kansas Fire Incident Reporting System recorded 64 civilian fire/burn deaths in Kansas and 53 of these deaths took place at home. Fire kills Kansans of all ages, but those less than 5 or more than 65 are particularly vulnerable – in the 75-84 age group there were 7.9 deaths per 100,000 people and in the 65-74 group, it was 4.7/100,000. The 1-4 age group had an age-specific rate of 2.6/100,000.

But, carbon monoxide can also be lethal.

Carbon monoxide is an invisible, odorless, tasteless gas produced by the incomplete combustion of fossil fuels. Common appliances, such as furnaces and water heaters, are often sources of CO. If they are not maintained, are improperly ventilated, or malfunction, CO levels can rise quickly. The need for CO detectors has become greater in recent years since houses have become more energy efficient and "air-tight".

CO is measured in parts per million High levels of CO can cause symptoms in a few minutes. It may take lower levels of CO several hours to cause symptoms. CO detectors should alarm between 4 and 15 minutes when exposed to 400 ppm. CO detectors should alarm between 60 and 240 minutes when exposed to 70 ppm. CO detectors are designed to alarm before carbon monoxide levels become threatening for average, healthy adults. People with cardiac or respiratory problems, infants, unborn babies, pregnant mothers, or elderly people can be more quickly and severely affected by CO.

What are symptoms of CO exposure?

Mild exposure: Slight headache, nausea, vomiting, fatigue ("flu-like" symptoms).

Medium exposure: Throbbing headache, drowsiness, confusion, fast heart rate.

Extreme exposure: Convulsions, unconsciousness, heart and lung failure, brain damage, death.

"It can be very dangerous," said Conrad Koehler, community relations manager for Kansas Gas Service. The gas company works closely with the fire department on both fire and CO calls. "Someone might not even know it’s happening."

This is why these detectors are important, he said. Anyone who notices CO can call the KGS hotline at 800-794-4780 or 911.

Those interested in applying for the smoke and CO alarms can call GBFD Station Number 1 at 620-793-4140.