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Wilton Fire Dept. Issues Carbon Monoxide Warning

WILTON, Conn. – The Wilton Fire Department issued the following statement regarding the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning and its prevention.

Protecting people and property from harm is our top priority. Now that the weather will begin to get colder and heating systems and fireplaces are being used on a regular basis, consideration should be given to preventing a most dangerous and insidious foe from doing harm to ourselves and families. That foe is carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning. During the October snow storm alone, officials reported the deaths of 10 people in the metro New York area, all associated with carbon monoxide poisoning.    

In Connecticut, a 29-year-old woman in Bloomfield and an 85-year-old gentleman in Sharon succumbed to this deadly hazard, emphasizing the importance of carbon monoxide safety. In the Bloomfield incident, a generator was being run in an enclosed area, causing a lethal buildup of CO. In the Sharon incident, a generator exhaust extension hose that was originally installed properly developed a leak near the generator’s muffler allowing carbon monoxide to fill the residence.  

Carbon monoxide is an invisible, odorless, tasteless gas, and it is highly poisonous. It is produced anytime an open flame is burning or internal combustion engine is running. Being tasteless and odorless, it can only be detected by the use of carbon monoxides detectors. Here are some interesting facts about carbon monoxide:

  • Heating equipment is the leading cause of CO incidents. Forty percent of all CO calls occur between the months of November and February, when home heating systems are in use.
  • Carbon monoxide poisoning results in approximately 100 deaths per year throughout the country, almost all from faulty heating equipment or generators. The October storm, responsible for 10 CO poisoning deaths in metro New York and Connecticut alone, accounted for more than 10% of the national annual average death rate.
  • Most CO calls occur between 5 p.m. and 10 a.m. This is the time when most heating equipment is in heavy use.
  • 97% of all CO incidents occur in residential buildings.
  • Portable generators can produce high levels of CO very quickly, especially in confined spaces.
  • What makes it extremely dangerous is that it’s invisible, odorless, tasteless and virtually undetectable without specialized equipment — and its effects can be severe, even fatal.
  • The good news is, with some basic knowledge and a conscious commitment to safety, most potential dangers can be avoided.

It’s important to recognize and respond quickly to symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning. Quick action can mean the difference between life and death.  

  • Initial signs of CO poisoning include headaches, dizziness, nausea, fatigue and disorientation, and are often mistaken for influenza or food poisoning.
  • If these are ignored, more serious symptoms will occur and may include increased heart rate, hallucinations, seizures and unconsciousness.
  • The elderly, young children and those with respiratory problems are the most susceptible to CO poisoning.
  • Opening doors and windows or using fans will not generally prevent CO build-up in the home.   
  • Remember, symptoms can turn deadly within a matter of minutes, so it’s important to recognize and respond to them quickly.   

Given the unprecedented nature of the past two storms and the related extended power outages, many people have purchased new portable generators or are now in the process purchasing them. Many of these individuals have no previous experience with generators. These tips should be kept in mind and followed.  

  • Before operating the generator, it’s wise to become familiar with the owner’s manual. Just taking a few minutes to read through the basics and become familiar with the unit will go a long way.
  • The best way to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning goes right back to location, location, location.
  • Always locate the unit outdoors on a dry surface, away from doors, windows, vents and air conditioning equipment that could allow CO to travel indoors.  
  • Performing a quick visual inspection is the next step before starting the generator. This will alert you to safety hazards that may have occurred during transport and/or set-up.
  • Never operate an engine-powered generator in an enclosed space. This includes garages, sheds, basements and any indoor space, regardless of how well ventilated it may appear to be.
  • Never operate a generator near a building where the carbon monoxide fumes could enter through open windows, doors or vents.
  • Even if the space is only partially enclosed, or has an open a window or door, a serious risk of carbon monoxide poisoning is still present.
  • Never use a generator indoors, including in homes, garages, basements, crawl spaces, and other enclosed or partially enclosed areas, even with ventilation.   
  • Check for any major damage, including loose, cut or frayed wiring.
  • Encountering electric shocks is always a possibility when working with a generator, so understanding how to avoid them will be essential for personal safety.
  • Do not connect the generator directly into your home's electrical system through a receptacle outlet — this poses a fire hazard and an electrocution hazard to utility workers and neighbors served by the same transformer.
  • If using a generator, plug appliances into heavy duty, outdoor-rated extension cords and plug cords into the generator.
  • Check that the extension cords have a wire gauge adequate for the appliance loads and have all three prongs, including a grounding pin.

What should you do in response to the threat of carbon monoxide?  

  • Your first line of defense against CO poisoning is proper installation and maintenance of your generator and auxiliary heating and cooking equipment.
  • Next, you need a relatively new and reliable carbon monoxide detector.  
  • We recommend that you purchase and install battery-operated or plug-in CO detectors with battery back-up in your home, according to the manufacturer’s installation instructions. It is generally recommended that you install at least one CO detector and one smoke detector on each floor of your home for maximum protection.
  • Any carbon monoxide detectors in your home that are over 5 years old should be replaced due to sensor degradation and technological improvements that have taken place. Look at the underside of the unit for a manufacturing date stamp if you are unsure of its age.
  • Test your CO detectors frequently and replace any dead batteries.
  • If your CO detector activates and/or anyone in your home begins to show signs or symptoms of CO poisoning, call 911 and evacuate to fresh air immediately.
  • Wilton Fire Department personnel will respond and use specialized metering devices to confirm the source of the CO, calculate the CO content in the home and ventilate the structure to a safe level.

A few closing thoughts to help you stay safe.

  • Do not burn charcoal or gas grills inside a house, garage, vehicle, tent or fireplace.
  • Make sure you allow your generator to cool down before refueling it. Many generator fires and personal injuries have resulted from spilling gas on hot mufflers while refueling.
  • Be a good neighbor. Consider checking on your neighbors, the elderly and those who may have special needs during periods of power outages.
  • Make sure alternate heating sources (kerosene heaters, space heaters, etc.) and cooking appliances (camp stoves, gas grills, alcohol stoves, etc.) are in safe working order and remain outside of your home/garage.
  • Use the cool-down time to check the oil, visually inspect the unit for parts that may have vibrated loose and the integrity of the exhaust system.
  • Turn off all of your electrical appliances, electronics, etc. so that they are not damaged when power is restored.

If you have questions about carbon monoxide you can call the Wilton Fire Department Fire Marshal’s Office (203-834-6249) for assistance.

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