Carbon monoxide (CO) is often referred to as the silent killer, given that it is odorless and colorless. Montana ranks number 3 among all states for deaths per capita due to carbon monoxide poisoning. Across the nation, more than 400 people die each year due to CO poisoning.
On November 9th, two Cascade County residents died when their RV heater malfunctioned.
Steven Tucker, Great Falls Fire Rescue captain, explains, "The amount of calls goes up in the winter due to colder temperatures. People try to heat their houses with their stoves and things they shouldn't be." Heating systems account for over 30% of all CO poisoning deaths.
Great Falls Fire Rescue recommends having a CO detector on every level of your home. While the elderly are most. susceptible to CO poisoning, it can affect any age group.
Tucker explains, "If you start to feel light-headed or you notice somebody else in the house has really rosy cheeks — those can be tell tale signs of carbon monoxide poisoning."
Other symptoms include dizziness, headache, chest pain, and weakness.
Many parts of central Montana have seen heavy snow throughout November, which Captain Tucker says can be a danger to residents: "In wintertime, obviously we get a lot snow and that will cover up vent pipes on your home. You want to make sure those are clear when we get high snow. If your power does go out, you don't want to be heating with your gas stove or anything that's not designed to be heated. Even if you have propane heaters, those aren't intended for indoor use." Any heating system should be checked annually by a technician.
The number of CO poisoning-related deaths has declined over the last couple of centuries. However, to keep it that way it is important to to stay vigilant and take the steps to minimize the chance of tragedy.
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From the CDC website:
- Install a battery-operated or battery back-up CO detector in your home. Check or replace the detector’s battery when you change the time on your clocks each spring and fall. Place your detector where it will wake you up if it alarms, such as outside your bedroom. Consider buying a detector with a digital readout. This detector can tell you the highest level of CO concentration in your home in addition to alarming. Replace your CO detector every five years.
- Have your heating system, water heater, and any other gas, oil, or coal burning appliances serviced by a qualified technician every year.
- Do not use portable flameless chemical heaters indoors.
- If you smell an odor from your gas refrigerator have an expert service it. An odor from your gas refrigerator can mean it could be leaking CO.
- When you buy gas equipment, buy only equipment carrying the seal of a national testing agency, such as Underwriters’ Laboratories.
- Make sure your gas appliances are vented properly. Horizontal vent pipes for appliances, such as a water heater, should go up slightly as they go toward outdoors, as shown below. This prevents CO from leaking if the joints or pipes aren’t fitted tightly.
- Have your chimney checked or cleaned every year. Chimneys can be blocked by debris. This can cause CO to build up inside your home or cabin.
- Never patch a vent pipe with tape, gum, or something else. This kind of patch can make CO build up in your home, cabin, or camper.
- Never use a gas range or oven for heating. Using a gas range or oven for heating can cause a build up of CO inside your home, cabin, or camper.
- Never burn charcoal indoors. Burning charcoal – red, gray, black, or white – gives off CO.
- Never use a portable gas camp stove indoors. Using a gas camp stove indoors can cause CO to build up inside your home, cabin, or camper.
- Never use a generator inside your home, basement, or garage or less than 20 feet from any window, door, or vent.
- When using a generator, use a battery-powered or battery backup CO detector in your home.