Carbon monoxide can be a silent killer |

Carbon monoxide can be a silent killer

Matt Stensland

— When the mercury drops, local firefighters know what is coming.

"Normally, we expect a couple different things," Oak Creek Fire Protection District Chief Chuck Wisecup said. "Chimney fires and carbon monoxide alarms."

Just last week, Oak Creek firefighters responded to two calls after residents were alerted by carbon monoxide alarms that there may be a problem.

Capt. John Halligan said that in one case, the alarm went off while a furnace was being serviced. At another home, a malfunctioning water heater triggered an alarm signaling the presence of the colorless, odorless, tasteless and poisonous gas.

In both cases, no one had to be taken to the hospital.

Carbon monoxide is the byproduct of the incomplete combustion of fuels, including coal, wood, charcoal, oil, kerosene, propane and natural gas.

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According to the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission, about 170 people in the United States die on average every year from carbon monoxide, excluding incidents involving automobiles.

It is suspected that carbon monoxide poisoned and killed a 78-year-old California man who was hunting in Moffat County on Sunday. The man was camping with two other men, and they were using two heat sources, including a propane heater, to heat their tent.

Moffat County Sheriff's Office Lt. KC Hume said that a fuel-powered heater should not be used in an enclosed space. The two other men were taken to a Denver-area hospital to be treated for carbon monoxide poisoning.

At home, Wisecup said there are a few things people can do to protect themselves from carbon monoxide, and he has compiled information for residents.

In addition to making sure furnaces, water heaters and other fuel-burning equipment are maintained, Wisecup recommended making sure that batteries are changed regularly in carbon monoxide alarms.

While combination smoke/carbon monoxide alarms are available, Wisecup recommended buying them separately. That is because smoke alarms should be placed on the ceiling, and carbon monoxide detectors should be placed closer to the ground. Wisecup said carbon monoxide alarms should be placed in all sleeping areas, ideally at the same level as the bed, where carbon monoxide can be breathed in.

"When you're sleeping, that's when you're most susceptible to it," Wisecup said.

Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include flu-like symptoms, and finding the source of the gas sometimes can be difficult because the gas can dissipate quickly with ventilation, such as when the front door is opened.

In one case, Oak Creek firefighters were trying to find out why the gas was getting into a bedroom where someone was sleeping with an open window. None of the other alarms in the house were going off. They traced the gas to a nearby vent outside that was exhausting gas from the furnace and then getting into the house.

Snow also can create problems on roofs.

"We'll see snow drifts build up over the vent pipes," Wisecup said.

People who suspect carbon monoxide is in their home should call 911.

To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247, email or follow him on Twitter @SBTStensland

Carbon monoxide tips from Oak Creek Fire Protection District

• You have a responsibility to know about the dangers of carbon monoxide. Your knowledge and actions may save lives.

• Carbon monoxide detectors are a good second line of defense, but do not eliminate the need for regular inspection, maintenance and safe use of fuel-burning equipment.

• Take the time to learn about the use of CO detectors in your home to ensure you are using this equipment properly and effectively.