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Officials warn of CO poisoning
Get furnaces and fire places cleaned
icy main Jan. 2020
Ice on Main Street Great Bend, Friday, Jan. 17, 2020. - photo by Daniel Kiewel

TOPEKA — The arrival of colder weather means more homes are turning up the heat with fuel-burning appliances. These appliances include furnaces, ovens, space heaters, generators, indoor grills and fireplaces that can unknowingly cause dangerous levels of carbon monoxide to build up in the home. 

“Having CO detectors in the home is always a great idea just like having smoke detectors,” Great Bend Fire Inspector Mark Orth said. “It is also a good idea around this time of the year to get your furnace and fireplace clean and ready for the winter months. This can prevent a lot of problems during the cold season. CO is the same weight as air so it can travel anywhere in the home. That means you can place your CO detectors anywhere in the home, just not next to air vents.

“If you keep you car in a attached garage, do not keep the car running,” Orth added. Start the car and let it warm up outside. “Even with the garage door open, CO can leak into the home.” 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, from 2010 to 2015, an average of 374 people died each year from unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning in the United States. In Kansas, from 2011 to 2015, there were annually an average of 146 emergency department visits, 22 hospitalizations and 12 deaths due to unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning.

On May 11, KDHE updated regulations for the reporting of notifiable disease conditions, adding CO poisoning to Kansas’ list of reportable diseases.

“KDHE will use the reported information to better understand the circumstances of CO poisonings that occur in public settings in Kansas,” said Dr. Farah Ahmed, environmental health officer and state epidemiologist. “This additional information will be used to determine if there are any potential interventions that partners can help devise to reduce the risk of another CO poisoning event in the public location.” 

“CO is known as the invisible killer because it is colorless and odorless,” Safe Kids Kansas employee Cherie Sage said. “The symptoms of CO poisoning are similar to those of common winter ailments, like the flu. Without a CO alarm in your home, your family can be poisoned without even realizing it’s happening.”

CO poisoning can happen suddenly or cause poisoning over a longer amount of time. 

CO alarms cost approximately $20 and can be purchased at most hardware and retail stores.

Tips to protect your family from CO poisoning:  

• Prevent CO buildup in the first place—make sure heating appliances are in good working order and used only in well-ventilated areas. Don’t run a car engine or any other gas-powered tool in the garage, even with the garage doors open. If you need to warm up your vehicle, move it outside first. 

• Install alarms in the hallway near the bedrooms in each separate sleeping area and on every level of the home. Keep alarms at least 15 inches from all fuel-burning appliances. 

• Follow manufacturer’s directions for installation, testing and using CO alarms. There are many options and styles to choose from, including hardwired, combination smoke and CO alarms, and battery operated. When you check your smoke alarm batteries each month, check the batteries on your CO alarms at the same time.

• Never use an oven or gas range for heating.

• Only use portable generators, gas camp stoves and charcoal grills outside with proper ventilation. They cannot be used indoors, inside of a garage or enclosed porch. 

• If more than one person in the home suddenly feels ill for no apparent reason, or if a CO alarm goes off, get everyone outside immediately and call 911 from a pre-arranged meeting place. Pay attention to pets, sometimes they will show signs of illness first. Don’t go back inside until the fire department or gas company says it is safe.

“Early detection can mean the difference between life and death when it comes to CO poisoning,” said State Fire Marshal Doug Jorgensen. “CO alarms, along with smoke alarms, are one of the best ways to provide protection in your home for your family.”

The Kansas Office of the State Fire Marshal, through its Get Alarmed, Kansas program, is working with fire departments across the state to deliver and install free smoke alarms, which include CO detection. For more information on Get Alarmed, Kansas, visit, For more information about CO poisoning, visit, or call the Poison Control Hotline, 800-222-1222.