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Sunday, February 1, 2015

Safety First Day of the Month - Activated CO Detector Saves Neighbors Life


Mark E. Brady, Chief Spokesperson, 240-508-7930
mebrady@co.pg.md.us     @PGFDPIO

A resident of a Greenbelt apartment building knew about the dangers of carbon monoxide (CO) and the only safe way to detect the “Silent Killer” is to have a working CO detector.  At about 12:30 pm, Sunday, February 1, her CO detector sounded a warning indicating unhealthy levels of CO.  She called 911 and firefighters and paramedics responded to 6101 Beezewood Court, a 3-story garden-style apartment building.  The 911 caller did not know her CO detector and her actions just started a chain of events that would end up saving a neighbors life. 



Apartment complex maintenance workers arrived prior to the firefighters and started to ventilate the building effectively reducing CO levels inside the building.

Firefighters arrived and used gas meters to find 100 parts per million (PPM) of CO.  Anywhere from 0 to 35 ppm is considered normal with anything over that being considered unhealthy with prolonged exposure.  All occupants were evacuated as firefighters searched for the source of CO and to account for all occupants. 

Firefighters searched all the apartments with only one not generating a response from an occupant.  They forced entry and found an adult female unresponsive and in respiratory arrest.  EMT’s and paramedics immediately initiated treatment for CO exposure and worked to revive the unconscious non-breathing female.  Medics were successful in reviving her and soon had her breathing on her own.  She was transported to an area hospital in critical condition.

Firefighters discovered a dislodged ventilation pipe that carries the toxic CO gas from a basement water heater to the exterior.  The patient’s apartment was on the first floor and directly above the basement water heater.  The appliance was shut down and ordered to be repaired before being tuned back on.  The apartment building was ventilated and occupants were allowed to return.

CO is a colorless, odorless, and tasteless gas and is referred to as the “The Silent Killer.”  The properties of CO (colorless, odorless and tasteless) make it nearly impossible to detect without monitoring equipment. A working CO detector is the only method residents can use to detect the presence of CO. CO detectors are relatively inexpensive and can be purchased at hardware and home improvement stores.  We recommend the use of 10-year CO detectors.

CO results from incomplete oxidation of carbon in combustion and/or the inadequate ventilation of CO after normal combustion. Sources of CO include unvented kerosene and gas space heaters; leaking chimneys and furnaces; back drafting from furnaces, gas water heaters, wood stoves, and fireplaces; gas stoves; generators and other gasoline powered equipment; automobile exhaust from attached garages.  A broken or malfunctioning ventilation system for these appliances is often found to be at fault for the release of CO into the home.

CO Poisoning Prevention Tips

• In Prince George’s County, it is now a law that you have at least one battery-powered CO detector on each level of your home and near sleeping areas, and make sure it is more than 5 feet from fuel-burning appliances to prevent false alarms.  The Fire/EMS Department strongly encourages the use of a 10-year CO detector.
• Ensure that fuel-burning appliances are properly installed and working according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Inspect these appliances for adequate ventilation.
• Do not burn charcoal inside your house, even in the fireplace.
• Do not use gasoline-powered generators inside of your house.
• Keep chimneys clear of animal nests, leaves and residue to ensure proper venting.
• Do not block or seal shut exhaust flues or ducts for appliances, such as water heaters, ranges and clothes dryers.

If It Happens to You

• Never ignore your CO detectors if it sounds.
• Determine if anyone in the household is experiencing symptoms of CO exposure symptoms such as a headache, nausea, drowsiness or confusion. Call 911.
• Exit your home. Leave the CO detector where it is.
• Do not return to your home until the emergency personnel have arrived, the home is aired out and your CO alarm returns to normal operation.

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