What is Carbon Monoxide (CO)?
Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless, extremely poisonous and explosive gas that causes 1,500 accidental deaths and more than 10,000 injuries each year. CO is slightly lighter than air and mixes throughout the atmosphere. It is a by-product of incomplete combustion, produced when fuels such as natural gas, propane, heating oil, kerosene, coal, charcoal, gasoline or wood are burned with insufficient air.
Effects of CO Poisoning
When a person breathes in carbon monoxide, it is absorbed by hemoglobin, the oxygen-carrying protein in the blood. "Carboxy hemoglobin" is then formed, replacing oxygen, preventing its release in the body and eventually causing suffocation.
- Mild Exposure: Flu-like symptoms including slight headache, nausea, vomiting and fatigue.
- Medium Exposure: Severe headache, drowsiness, confusion and a fast heart rate. Prolonged exposure to medium levels of CO can result in death.
- Extreme Exposure: Loss of consciousness, convulsions, heart and lung failure, possible brain damage and death.
While everyone is at risk for CO poisoning, unborn babies, infants and young children, senior citizens and people with heart and lung problems are at a higher risk due to their greater oxygen needs.
Possible Sources of CO
- Gas stoves
- Hot water heaters
- Pilot lights
- Gas or oil furnaces
- Car exhaust fumes
- Wood-burning stoves
- Gas space heaters
- Tobacco smoke
How to Prevent CO Poisoning
- Inspect flues and chimneys for cracks, corrosion, holes, debris or blockages.
- Buy fuel-powered heaters with automatic shut-off features.
- Fuel heaters in well-ventilated areas.
- Service heaters before the first use of winter season
- Open windows periodically to air out your house. Homes with energy-efficient insulation can trap CO-polluted air inside.
- Use a gas stove for cooking purposes only.
- Operate gas-burning appliances in a well-ventilated room.
- Never leave a car running in a garage.
- Use charcoal grills outdoors, never indoors.
- Install and maintain carbon monoxide detectors.
Choosing a CO Detector
There are three types of CO detectors available. While each has specific features and qualities, all will alert owners to danger.
Biomimetic CO Detector
- Gel cell of synthetic hemoglobin absorbs CO.
- Combination battery and sensor module.
- Battery-sensor module must be replaced every two to three years, but the detector should last about 10 years.
- After an alarm, the sensor should clear itself within two to 48 hours when left in fresh air. If it is not cleared, it will sound again when put back in the detector. If the sensor does not clear itself after 48 hours, it must be replaced.
Semiconductor CO Detector
- Plug-in model measures CO build-up on and electronic sensor.
- Highly selective to CO gas.
- Lasts from five to 10 years.
Electrochemical CO Detector
- Fuel cell electro-chemical sensor.
- Eight-day data-logging memory records peak and accumulated CO levels.
- Responds differently to three levels of CO exposure.
- Self-powered-battery replacement is not required.
- Detector will last for at least five years.
For all CO detectors, a continuous siren signals a full alarm; a repetition of loud pulsating beeps means there is a CO build-up; and a short chirp every minute alerts you to a malfunction or low battery.
Installing a CO Detector
Install CO Detectors near bedroom areas and family rooms. Do not install them near air vents or fans. Place them in the center of the room where they can measure the overall general atmospheres. For extra protection, place one about 15 feet away from your home’s heat source.
To avoid nuisance alarms, do not put a CO detector in the kitchen, garage, utility room, basement, bathroom or unventilated rooms where cleaning supplies are kept. Chemical fumes, humidity and very hot or very cold temperatures will affect the performance of a detector.
Look for These Features When Purchasing a Detector
- Stops automatically within minutes when fresh air clears CO.
- Manual reset button and test button.
- Digital warning light and light to indicate power is on.
- Horn that sounds 85 decibels.
- Approval from a testing laboratory, such as Underwriters Laboratory.
- With plug-in models, power cord at least six feet long.
- Battery/sensor pack on battery-operated models that lasts a few years.
- For use in recreational vehicles, buy an AC model or 12-volt version.
Maintenance and Testing
Keep CO detectors dust free by vacuuming air vents regularly. Test CO Detectors each week simply by pressing the Test/Silence button to make sure that the alarm sounds. If the detector ever fails to test properly, have it repaired or replaced immediately.
If the Alarm Sounds ...
If the alarm sounds and anyone in the house has symptoms of CO Poisoning
- Leave the house immediately and call 9-1-1 or an emergency response number.
- Have someone contact the fire department and consult the local fuel company.
If your alarm goes off and no one has symptoms of CO poisoning:
- Turn off all fuel-burning appliances that are possible sources of CO.
- Open windows to air out the house.
- Contact the local fuel company or a licensed technician to repair the problem
Every year thousands of children die in fires. Most of these deaths are the result of children playing with fire. To prevent these deaths, matches and lighters should always be kept out of reach of small children. The safest location is in a locked cabinet. Adults and older children should keep a watchful eye for misplaced matches or lighters. Talking to children about fire is important.
Let children know:
- Matches and lighters are tools, not toys.
- If children find matches or lighters they should tell an adult to put them away.
- It is very easy to accidentally start a fire; small fires can grow into big fires very quickly.
- If a fire is accidentally started, tell a grown-up right away.
- Never try to fight the fire themselves.
- Never hide or run away without telling someone.
- Have a professional inspect and service your central heating unit each year.
- Keep the area around the central heating units clear and clean filters regularly.
- "Space heaters need space." Heaters should be at least three feet away from anything that can burn, including the walls, curtains, and bedding.
- Never leave space heaters operating when you are not in the room or when you go to sleep.
- Electrical and kerosene heaters should be equipped with a cutoff device that will automatically shut off if the unit is tipped over or overheats.
- Make sure electric or kerosene heaters have the "UL" approval seal.
- Check electric space heaters for frayed or splitting wires. Have all problems repaired by a professional before operating.
- Kerosene and natural gas heaters should not be used in an enclosed area unless the area is vented or a window is partially opened to let fresh air in. This prevents the possible buildup of carbon monoxide. If you choose to install carbon monoxide detectors, choose models that are UL-listed, with a digital readout. Follow manufacturer's directions for proper placement.
- Keep children and pets away from space heaters.
- Never use heater/AC or water heater closets for storage.
- Make certain to open the flue in the fireplace before lighting a fire.
- Only burn hardwoods such as oak, maple, or ash in fireplaces. If synthetic logs are used, burn only one log at a time. Due to their construction, these logs produce a hotter fire than most firewood.
- Never use lighter fluid, gasoline, or other flammable liquids to start or enhance a fire.
- Do not burn paper (Including newspaper and giftwrap), Christmas trees or any holiday greenery in a fireplace.
- Chimneys should be professionally inspected each year and cleaned after burning approximately one cord of wood.
- Use a metal fireplace screen to prevent sparks from flying out.
- Make sure fires are out before going to bed or leaving the house.
- Keep children away from the fireplace at all times.
- Avoid wearing loose, flowing clothing near a fire.
- Always cool the ashes before taking them out of the fireplace. Place the ashes in a metal container and allow them to sit for several days or wet down thoroughly before putting them into a trash container or dumpster.
- Use a spark arrestor, which is a metal screen that covers the top of the chimney and prevents sparks from escaping. (It also will prevent birds from building nests in the chimney.)
Why is it necessary to post my street number?
Firefighters, emergency vehicles, and personnel may need to find your home quickly should an emergency occur. It is difficult for emergency vehicles, utility trucks, and postal and delivery trucks to find homes and businesses with address numbers that are not properly posted.
- House numbers should be no less than 4" tall.
- Numbers should be in a contrasting color to the color scheme of the building.
- House numbers should be visible up tp 150 feet, from all angles.
- Be sure house numbers can be seen at night.
- Keep house numbers clearly visible throughout the year. Plant growth during certain seasons can hide numbers.
- Remember that fire vehicles sit up higher than automobiles. Low hanging limbs can obstruct the view that would normally be visible to others.
Although street numbers may not seem to be that important, they can be critical in the event of a fire, sudden illness or other emergency. Another perspective on the visibility of house numbers may be stated this way: Can your address be seen from the street while sitting in a vehicle in the middle of the night? After all, that’s how an emergency vehicle approaching a residence may be looking at it.
Smoking is the leading cause of fatal fires nationwide. Prevent smoking fires by using these precautions and a watchful eye:
- Prohibit smoking in bed.
- Always have working smoke alarms in the home.
- Make large ashtrays available. Ashtrays with cigarette holders in the center are safer because if left unattended the cigarette will fall into the tray.
- Cigarette butts should not be emptied directly into the trash can; cigarettes can smolder for several hours and then burst into flames. It is better to empty the ashtray into the toilet or let it sit overnight.
- After parties where smoking has been permitted, check all furniture and trashcans to ensure that cigarettes were discarded properly.
- It's risky to smoke when you've been drinking or when you're drowsy
Death by Fire: Nearly 4,000 Americans die every year in residential fires. Most of these deaths are not from heat or flames but from inhaling smoke and toxic fumes. Smoke is actually the particles of combustion generated by what is burning -- paper, wood, chemicals, plastic, upholstery, or other fuels.
Buying Time: When a smoke alarm senses smoke, an alarm automatically sounds. Most fatal home fires occur between 8 p.m. and 8 a.m. Fires often generate lethal amounts of unseen smoke and fumes well before flames are visible and before heat makes residents feel uncomfortably warm. As a result, many people who die in home fires are asleep and never wake up. When carefully purchased, installed, and maintained, smoke alarms can prevent such needless deaths. Smoke alarms buy time to get out of the house quickly before toxic fumes accumulate to lethal levels. Working smoke alarms double an occupant's chance of surviving a fire.
Purchasing: Quality, not price, should be the determining factor when buying smoke alarms. Check for the following:
- Laboratory label, insuring that samples of the model was carefully tested.
- Alarm loud enough to awaken the family through closed bedroom doors.
- Malfunction signal, to warn you when batteries are weak or dead.
- Manufacturer’s warranty of at least five years.
- Ease in maintenance and cleaning.
Types of Smoke Alarms:
IONIZATION: Contains a small amount of radioactivity that conducts electricity. Electric current flows continuously between two electrodes in the chamber. When smoke particles enter, they disturb the flow, causing the alarm to go off.
PHOTOELECTRIC: Contains a beam of light and a photocell within the chamber. When smoke enters, it deflects the beam, causing it to strike the photocell and set off the alarm.
IONIZATION VS. PHOTOELECTRIC: Ionization alarms are more sensitive to the tiny particles of combustion that can’t be seen or smelled, those emitted by flaming fires. Photoelectric alarms are more sensitive to the large particles of combustion emitted by smoldering fires. The differences between the two types are generally not critical, since the difference in response time is only a matter of seconds. Since most home fires produce a rich mixture of smoke types, with detectable amounts of both large-particle and small-particle smoke early in the fire’s growth, either an ionization or a photoelectric alarm will meet most needs.
Some of the newer alarms have a "hush" feature, which allows the alarm to be quieted in "nuisance" situations without removing the battery, and are recommended over the older alarms.
Remember that a small investment - generally around $10 each - can save your life and the lives of your family.
- Buy as many smoke alarms as it takes to give your home complete coverage. You obviously increase your chances of survival with each alarm that you have, but one on each level of the house is the absolute minimum.
- You should have a smoke alarm in each bedroom, in the hallway close to each sleeping area and in heavily occupied areas like the living room.
- Having a smoke alarm in every bedroom and sleeping with the bedroom doors closed presents the best scenario for safe escape.
- Smoke alarms should be placed on or near the ceiling where smoke tends to be heaviest.
- Smoke alarms should not be placed directly over stoves, ovens or fireplaces.
- Follow the manufacturer’s installation instructions.
- On the ceilings, mount the device away from corners and walls, which have dead air space nearby. About eight to 10 inches is the recommended distance.
- On walls, install the alarms high, because smoke rises, and place them eight to 10 inches away from corners and ceilings.
- Install smoke alarms at least three feet from vents, which might re-circulate the smoke.
- Never place smoke alarms on un-insulated walls or ceilings. Extreme temperatures can ruin batteries and prevent smoke from reaching the alarms.
Smoke alarms provide an early warning system to allow you and your family extra time to get out of the house fast during a fire.
IF THE ALARM SOUNDS be sure each family member knows what the alarm sounds like and what to do. Families should regularly practice Operation EDITH - Exit Drills In The Home. This means having a prepared escape plan, with two possible escape routes from every room, and a prearranged meeting place outside the house. Families should actually run through a fire drill at least twice a year.
- Test your smoke alarm at least once a month by pressing the test button.
- Replace weak or worn-out batteries at once.
- Never borrow smoke alarm batteries for other uses.
- Keep extra batteries on hand.
- Change batteries at least once a year.
- Dust and vacuum smoke alarms at least once a year.
- Replace smoke alarms every 10 years.
- Make sure smoke alarms are working when you return home after an extended absence
- Keep your family and overnight guests safe with a working smoke detector on every level of the house, in every bedroom, and in the halls adjacent to the bedrooms. Test smoke alarms monthly and replace batteries at least once a year.
- Have a fire escape plan and designated meeting place for your home.
- Have a fire extinguisher available not more than 10 feet from the stove, on the exit side of the room. A 2-1/2 lb. class ABC multi-purpose dry chemical extinguisher is recommended. Know how to use your fire extinguisher.
- Keep cooking areas clean and cleared of all combustibles that could ignite if placed too close to the stove area auch as boxes, towels, pot holders, or holiday decorations.
- Keep the kitchen off-limits to young children and adults that are not helping with food preparations to lessen the possibility of kitchen mishaps.
- When cooking, do not wear clothing with loose sleeves or dangling jewelry. The clothing can catch on fire and the jewelry can catch on pot handles, causing spills and burns.
- Cook on the back burners when possible and turn pot handles in so they don’t extend over the edge of the stove.
- Never leave cooking unattended. If you must leave the kitchen while cooking, turn off the stove or have someone else watch what is being cooked.
- If a fire does occur, put a lid on it! Pan fires are best extinguished by covering the pan with a lid or a cookie sheet to smother the flames.
- Candles are often part of holiday decorations. Candles should never be left burning when you are away from home, or after going to bed.
- Candles should be located where children will not be tempted to play with them, and where guests will not accidentally brush against them.
- The candle holder should be completely noncombustible and difficult to knock over. The candle should not have combustible decorations around it.
- Before choosing a tree, shake it to make sure it's not dropping needles. Limbs should be flexible. Trees with thicker needles, such as the noble fir, last longer.
- To make a cut tree last longer, cut 2" to 3" off the trunk and then immediately place the base of the tree in water. Keep the tree outside (out of the sun) as long as possible since even a well-watered tree will only last about three weeks inside the home.
- Chose a sturdy tree stand that holds at least one gallon of liquid. Replenish water daily.
- Place Christmas trees away from fireplaces, radiators and other heat sources.
- Do not use lighted candles on the tree.
- All light sets should bear the "UL" label from Underwriter Laboratories.
Turn off Christmas tree lights before leaving home or going to sleep. Faulty or unattended lights cause most Christmas tree fires.
- Dispose of the tree as soon as needles begin to fall off easily when the tree is touched.
Have a Home Escape Plan
Family members should discuss what to do in case of a fire. An organized step-by-step plan is essential to ensure a safe escape.
Know Two Ways Out
Discuss and diagram two ways out of every room, especially bedrooms. Doors are the primary and windows are the secondary ways of exit. Make sure everyone knows how to unlock all locks, and quickly open all windows and doors. Include all hallways and stairs in the escape plan.
Choose a Meeting Place
Have a place outdoors for everyone to meet for roll call. Make sure someone is assigned to call 9-1-1 from a neighbor’s house or a pay phone.
Get Out Fast
Exit as quickly as possible. If it’s smoky, get down low, and stay low. Crawl as quickly as possible. Once outside, go to the family meeting place.
Put closed doors between people and smoke. Stuff cracks and cover vents to keep smoke out. Wait at the window and signal with a flashlight or a sheet.
If a dwelling has more than one level above ground, we recommend the use of a portable escape ladder in an emergency evacuation. If a portable ladder is not available, hang a pillowcase, sheet, or shirt out of the window to flag the rescuers. Do not jump unless there is immediate danger of being burned or overcome by smoke, and no rescuer is in sight. Make special arrangements for small children and people with disabilities.
Do Not Go Back Inside!!!
Make sure everyone in the family understands the importance of not going back inside a burning building for any reason. Someone who goes back in may not come back out.
Practice the Plan
Practice E.D.I.T.H. (Exit Drills In The Home) in the home or ask the management to schedule one in an apartment building twice a year.
Appoint someone to sound the alarm and time the drill, making sure everyone uses the second escape route and gets low, and goes.
Most fatal fires occur at night when everyone is asleep, so everyone should start the drill in his/her bedroom. Close the door and wait for the monitor to sound the alarm.
Practice crawling fast and staying low to escape smoke. Smoke rises while clean air stays low near the floor, so get down on your knees and crawl, maintaining contact with the walls while heading to the nearest exit.
Test the door using the back of your hands. In a real fire, if hot, take your second way out. If the second exit is not an option, brace a shoulder against the door and open it carefully, being ready to close it quickly if heat or smoke rush in.
Get out fast and go to the meeting place, where the monitor will then take a head count and review the drill, discussing any problems with escape routes.
Play it Safe: Install a Smoke Alarm
The early warning of a working smoke alarm provides crucial seconds that can save lives!
A fire extinguisher is an important fire protection device to have around the house. The recommended extinguisher for the home is a 2-1/2 pound Class ABC multi-purpose dry chemical extinguisher. Extinguishers are classified depending on the type of combustible material they are suited to extinguish in a fire. Type A is suited for wood, paper, plastics and other non-metallic solids. Type B is intended for use on burning liquids such as cooking oil, brake fluid, etc. The extinguishing agent used in Type C models does not conduct electricity and therefore is safe to use on electrically charged appliances or outlets. So, a Class ABC extinguisher can be used in any of the above-mentioned scenarios.
Fire extinguishers should be placed within in the kitchen on the exit side of the room, but not within 6 feet of the stove. Having one in the garage that is easily accessible also is recommended.
Fire extinguishers can save property and lives when used correctly. But do not delay calling the fire department first while trying to use the extinguisher.
For an extinguisher to be useful the following factors must be addressed:
- The extinguisher must be maintained in good working order and serviced when necessary.
- It must be accessible (located in a conspicuous or labeled area).
- The user must be able to deploy the agent properly.
Rules for using a portable extinguisher:
- If you have any doubts concerning how to use the fire extinguisher or whether you should try to fight the fire, DO NOT fight the fire. Get out of the room and close the door.
- Be sure everyone else is out, or in the process of getting out, of the house before you begin fighting the fire.
- Extinguishers should only be used when the fire has not extended beyond the initial fuel that was ignited.
- Do not try to fight a large fire. Call the fire department immediately.
- Always have an escape route planned prior to using an extinguisher.
- Apply the extinguisher agent from several feet away. Remember PASS
P - Pull the pin
A - Aim at the base of the fire
S - Squeeze the handle and maintain the pressure
S - Sweep from side-to-side and from front to rear