Close call: Carbon monoxide poisoning of concern in Northwest Colorado | CraigDailyPress.com

Close call: Carbon monoxide poisoning of concern in Northwest Colorado

Carbon monoxide detectors can be used as additional protection from Carbon Monoxide — a deadly odorless, colorless gas produced from poorly vented furnaces and other heating appliances, portable generators, fireplaces and automobile engines.

CRAIG — The onset of cold weather and use of heating appliance has coincided with an uptick in the number of calls to the fire department for carbon monoxide investigations.

"Since October, we've been on about 10 calls. We go on more in the winter, when people start using their furnaces and keeping cars idling," Craig Fire/Rescue Battalion Chief Troy Hampton said.

A condominium complex in Steamboat Springs had to be evacuated Sunday when one tenant, an elderly woman who was later hospitalized with CO poisoning, accidentally left her car running in the garage, as reported by Steamboat Today.

Close calls are a good reminder to be on the alert for the gas, which is widely known as the silent killer.

Every year in the United States, more than 20,000 people visit the emergency room, more than 4,000 people are hospitalized and more than 400 people die from unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The colorless, odorless gas is undetectable to human senses.

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"You don't smell it. You don't see it. Unless you have a detector in place, you don't know if you have it," Hampton said.

The deadly gas is produced from incomplete combustion produced by furnaces and other heating appliances, portable generators, fireplaces and automobile engines. When these sources are not properly ventilated, the levels of CO can build, creating a dangerous situation.

According to the CDC, the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are flu-like and often include headache, sleepiness, weakness, vomiting, dizziness and tightness in the chest. Prolonged exposure can cause severe side effects and even death.

One of the best steps to take when carbon monoxide poisoning is suspected is exposure to fresh air.

"If you or your family experience these symptoms, go outside immediately, and call 911 or seek emergency medical attention," recommended Atmos Energy Public Affairs Representative Jennifer Altieri in a news release.

The only way to detect carbon monoxide is by using equipment specifically designed to identify the gas.

The U.S. Fire Administration recommends installation and maintenance of carbon monoxide alarms in a central location in the home, outside each sleeping area and on every level of a home to provide early warning of carbon monoxide.

In Colorado, between 2000 and 2008, approximately 108 individuals died and another 256 were hospitalized due to unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning, according to the CDPHE.

The spike in deaths prompted legislators to pass a law (HB 09-1091) requiring detectors in all rental units. The detectors must be installed within 15 feet of any bedroom.

Firefighters investigating the incident in Steamboat Springs found condos that did not have carbon monoxide alarms.

"Hopefully people have CO detectors in place and check them, just like you do with your smoke detectors," Hampton said. "Don't be afraid to call the fire department. I would rather play it safe than have a death because of it. It doesn't take us long to get there and go in with our meters and see if there is any CO."

Contact Sasha Nelson at 970-875-1794 or snelson@CraigDailyPress.com.

Protection from CO poisoning

Atmos Energy offers the following five tips to stay safe from carbon monoxide poisoning this winter.

• Do not idle a vehicle inside a garage or other enclosed structure.
• Do not sleep in any room with an unvented gas or kerosene space heater.
• Do not close flues when fireplaces are in use, and ensure doors on wood-burning stoves are closed.
• Check vents on water heaters, dryers and other equipment to be sure air can flow through, without being blocked by birds nests, snow or other material.
• Do not ignore headaches, nausea, vomiting, drowsiness and flu-like symptoms, particularly if more than one person is feeling ill.

For additional carbon monoxide safety tips, visit atmosenergy.com/safety/carbon-monoxide-safety.