Each year more than 170 Americans die as a result of carbon monoxide poisoning. Another 10,000 are treated or hospitalized in the same time period. Already in this 2018 heating season, your East Meadow Firefighters have responded to a few true emergencies where concern-able levels carbon monoxide gas were detected and had to be removed from the home.
Most of these alarms are due to a malfunction, low battery, improper installation, and/or an overly sensitive alarm. However, each year in East Meadow alone, we find situations where there has been a buildup of carbon monoxide that could have become life threatening if not for detection.
This time of the year is even riskier because the cooler temperatures force homeowners to heat form inside and close the windows, making their homes more airtight. In many cases, heating systems not properly serviced for the upcoming season can be of further complication.
Your EMFD volunteers would like our community to become more familiar with the dangers of this silent killer. For this reason we have put together this article to give our residents the best possible knowledge in recognizing such an emergency.
What is carbon monoxide?
Carbon Monoxide is an odorless, colorless, tasteless gas harmful to the human body.
How can it harm my family?
Carbon monoxide, measured in "Parts Per Million," can be dangerous at many different levels of concentration. Very small amounts over a long period of time, or large concentrations over a short period of time, can cause illness and/or death.
When the body is exposed to the gas, it bonds with the Hemoglobin in your blood stream and replaces the oxygen you need to survive. A low level exposure can result in flu like symptoms such a headache, fatigue, nausea, and dizziness, while more severe exposures can result in shortness of breath, disorientation, loss of muscle control, unconsciousness, and even death. Exposures can affect the human body differently from one to another with the elderly, and those in poor health at higher risk.
Where is it most commonly found? Carbon Monoxide is most commonly found in the incomplete combustion of fuels such as fuel oil, propane, kerosene, coal, and wood. Natural gas, a more complete or cleaner form of combustion can also produce carbon monoxide. Risks are most common in the home when the gases accumulate due to a poorly vented or blocked chimney flu, (mechanical heating system or fireplace), un-serviced or improperly adjusted oil or gas burners. Internal combustion engines such as a running car in the garage, a running generator, or gas power tools, are common sources year round, therefore, never run any fuel-powered motor in your home, garage or near any window or opening that would allow its deadly gas to accumulate.
A less commonly found source of carbon monoxide can be in your cooking when using a gas stove and/or oven. In such cases we have seen PPMs in the single to low double digits. Our past response experiences have revealed that these rare cooking accumulations are low and too minimal to cause any harm, however, any such situation can be prevented, if suspected, with opening in a few windows. But always remember: Should you have any concern, call your E.M.F.D.
What about parts per million? A measurement of gas concentration, parts per million readings, will detect the amount of concentration, in this case, in the air we breathe. Expectations within your home should be that we have no CO levels, therefore your detector should display "000,” however, the introduction of CO can range in readings from anywhere to lows of 40-50 PPM that can cause headaches and or dizziness in exposure of 8 hours. PPMs excess of 800 can cause dizziness, nausea and convulsions within 45 minutes. Comparatively PPMs of 3,200 have similar symptoms but occur within 5 to 10 minutes, with death in 30 minutes. PPMs of excess 12,800 can result in unconsciousness after 2 to 3 breaths and death after 3 minutes. These numbers can vary based on the individual.
What can I do to prevent its presence? The EMFD urges all homeowners to have your heating system professionally maintained at the beginning and end of each season. It is recommended that your chimney flues be cleaned annually by a licensed and certified contractor. Your chimney tops should be capped with an approved animal resistant cage. Look for the warning signs such as excessive smoke from the chimney, or excess soot buildup that indicates an improperly working furnace. A puff back odor, or a burner sounding sluggish are all contributing factors. These situations never get better on their own and require a qualified serviceman. Remember although you can't smell, see, or taste carbon monoxide, should you have a fault with your heating system and smell by products of the exhaust, rest assured, you likely have a low level of CO at the least hidden in that odor.
Where should I install a carbon monoxide detector? In general, similar to a smoke detector, it is recommended that you have one at each level of your home within earshot of all sleeping quarters. If your detector displays the presence of CO, evacuate the home! Notify EMFD via Emergency line at 542-0576. Await our response. Do not re-enter the home.
About your EMFD response
Your call will prompt members specifically equipped with highly sensitive CO detectors. In the event you actually have a real emergency, firefighters in "self contained breathing apparatus" (Air Tanks) are trained to locate and, eliminate the source, and quickly exhaust all the gases from your home. Should a family member require medical attention, our Rescues 4 or 5, will be at the ready with the latest technology to determine any possible level of carbon monoxide exposure, and treat accordingly with professional care.
Over the years, the EMFD has responded to many alarms that turned out to be a malfunction of the detector. There are a few important things each homeowner should know about their detector. Read your instructions carefully to know more about what to expect. On more than one occasion in the past, homeowners have called reporting a reading of "1o8" as displayed on their LED display. Where this would be a concern-able level to emergency responders, often on arrival we reveal this was actually the abbreviation of a low battery (LO B). Last, be sure you are familiar with the lifespan of your detector. The average sensor life of yesterday's Carbon Monoxide detector ranges from 3 to 5 years, but some last 10 years. Be sure you check the date on your detector, and if there is any uncertainty, replace it immediately.
We thank you for taking time to review this valuable information, and wish all of our neighbors a safe, happy, and healthy upcoming holiday season and new year. Should you have any questions at all concerning your carbon monoxide detector, please feel free to contact the Office of the Chiefs at 516-542-0580, or E Mail us at JOBrien@EastMeadowFD.Com .
John J. O'Brien is an active Ex Chief of the East Meadow Fire Department. He is the District Supervisor of the Jericho Fire District and has over 30 years of Dispatch and Supervisory experience.