Expose CO — an invisible killer
Every home should have a working smoke alarm and a working carbon monoxide (CO) detector.
A smoke alarm dramatically increases the chances of surviving a fire, while a CO detector can alert you to the presence of deadly fumes.
Every year in America, CO poisoning claims more than 400 lives and sends another 20,000 people to hospital emergency rooms for treatment.
CO is an odorless, colorless and toxic gas. It can come from gas-fired appliances, charcoal grills, wood-burning stoves or fireplaces, and motor vehicles.
The effects of exposure can vary; at lower levels symptoms may include headaches, dizziness, disorientation, nausea and fatigue. It is often mistaken for the flu.
If a home CO alarm goes off and no one is feeling ill, silence the alarm, turn off all appliances and sources of combustion (such as the furnace and fireplace), open doors and windows to ventilate the house, and call a qualified professional to investigate the source of the CO buildup.
If illness is a factor, evacuate all occupants immediately, determine how many people are ill and determine their symptoms, then call 911 and relay that information. Don’t re-enter the home without the approval of a firefighter. Call a qualified professional to repair the source of the CO.
-Source: The U.S. Fire Administration and the National Association of Home Builders.
Whether using traditional home heating methods or cost-saving alternatives, it’s a good idea to use caution and maintain a fire-safe home. Now that winter is upon us, Great Bend Fire Chief Mike Napolitano and Building Inspector Lee Schneider have some seasonal fire safety tips for wood stoves and fireplaces, fixed and portable space heaters, furnace heating, and heating with generators.
"Home furnaces are kind of a hidden item," Napolitano said. "People don’t think about them unless they don’t work."
The furnace should be inspected annually by a qualified expert, and leave furnace repairs to qualified specialists. The furnace filter should be changed approximately every three months — and more often if they’re accumulating a lot of dirt, such as after a remodeling project.
"Furnaces move a lot of air," Schneider said. "After 20 years there may be cracks or holes in the heat changer that could put carbon monoxide into your home."
The U.S. Fire Administration (www.usfa.fema.gov) recommends keeping a 3-foot zone around fireplaces, wood stoves, space heaters, furnaces, floor grates and water heaters. Keep that zone free of things that can burn, including drapes, clothing, rugs and paper. "And NEVER leave a fire burning unattended or when you go to sleep."
Wood stoves and fireplaces should periodically be burned hot to reduce the amount of creosote buildup. And never discard hot ashes inside or near the home.
Space heaters account for the largest share of fatal heating-related fires, even though most of these fires could be prevented.
• Built-in space heaters should be connected to chimneys, which should also be inspected annually. Make sure the flue pipes are properly installed and connected; check flues for corrosions and obstructions.
• Portable heaters should be in good working condition and have an emergency shut-off. Maintain the recommended safety zone and only use the fuel recommended for the heater. "Unvented gas heaters are not allowed in residential homes as a source of heat," Schneider said. "ALL gas powered appliances have to be vented to the outside."
Modern homes are sealed tight to prevent heat loss in the winter and lower cooling bills in the summer, but that means bad air isn’t exchanged for fresh air nearly as often.
Portable generators pose their own hazards.
"Generators are a temporary thing," Schneider said. "They need to be left outside." To avoid carbon monoxide hazards, never use generators in enclosed or partially enclosed areas, such as homes, garages, basements or crawl spaces.
To avoid electrical hazards, Schneider said, "use the generator for appliances that you plug directly into it. If you want to tie the generator in to power your whole house, then that needs to be done by a qualified electrician."