Generators may cause Y2K problems of their own
December 22, 1999
Parents worried about their children’s safety in Moffat County schools have one less reason to be concerned.
The Craig Police Department was awarded a $125,000 grant to put an extra officer in Craig schools.
The Craig Police Department is one of only six departments in Colorado to receive funding in this grant cycle.While speculation abounds over the possible threat of Y2K on Jan. 1, state health officials are mostly concerned about the improper use of gas burning electric generators that could cause carbon monoxide-related deaths.
Dr. Richard Hoffman, acting chief medical officer based at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, warns that unless generators are properly vented, they can be the cause of deaths due to carbon monoxide poisoning.
“There is only one safe place for generators outside the walls of the home and outside of the garage,” said Hoffman. “Gasoline, kerosene and propane-powered generators all can cause carbon monoxide poisoning if they are operated in a poorly-ventilated room connected to living quarters.”
Hoffman believes carbon monoxide from a generator operating in a garage can easily enter a home and overcome the residents even if an attempt is made to provide ventilation.
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“Most motor-vehicle related carbon monoxide deaths in garages occurred even though the garage doors or windows were open, suggesting that these ventilation measures may not be adequate to reduce the risk in semi-enclosed spaces,” said Hoffman. “Deaths also have occurred in working or living quarters adjacent to enclosed garages where vehicle engines are left running.”
Hoffman points to the January 1998 ice storms in northeastern United States to emphasize the dangers of using generators during a power outage.
The largest number of deaths during the storm were caused by carbon monoxide poisoning which resulted primarily from the improper use of generators, according to officials with the Maine Bureau of Health.
To avoid poisoning from carbon monoxide, which is a colorless, odorless gas:
Adequate ventilation must be provided when running fuel-powered generators and equipment. Such ventilation is best provided by placing the engine outside an enclosed space.
Provide regular maintenance of gas-powered appliances, particularly furnaces and generators.
Install at least one battery-operated carbon monoxide detector in a home to warn when carbon monoxide reaches dangerous levels.
When refueling any gas-powered equipment, always turn off the unit and let it cool down completely before adding fuel.
Always store fuel in approved containers, well away from exposed flames and heat sources.
Never hook up a generator directly to the electrical wiring for a home. Home-use generators are not designed to provide enough amperage to supply today’s home sufficiently. Unless the home is equipped with a disconnect to the main power supply, any auxiliary power supplied to a home from an electric generator could backfeed into the main line and cause problems for the homeowner, neighbors and the utility company. A heavy-duty extension cord or cords should be used to connect the generator to specific lamps or electrical appliances.
Hoffman said that the diagnosis of carbon monoxide poisoning is difficult because the symptoms are non-specific. The early symptoms include headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, drowsiness and confusion. Fever does not occur.
Lori Gerzina, consumer protection manager for the State Health Department’s Consumer Protection Division, said, “The biggest tip of all is not to ignore potential carbon monoxide caused symptoms. If family members are unusually cranky, complaining of headaches, and having extreme difficulty getting going in the morning, it could be due to high carbon monoxide levels.”
The grants are part of the Department of Justice Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS), which has funded more than 100,000 officers around the country, including 1,100 officers in Colorado. The COPS has several granting programs. The local grant was given under the COPS in Schools program, which funds the hiring of community policing officers to work in primary and secondary schools.
A similar grant was used in 1996 to hire the first school resource officer in Moffat County, but school officials and Craig Police Department Chief Walt Vanatta saw a need for another.
“Since the inception of the program, it has expanded on its own,” Vanatta said.
The original school resource officer was hired to work at the high school, but is providing services to students in all schools.
“That’s diluting the program where (Anthony) couldn’t keep up with the demand,” Vanatta said.
In preparing for this grant, School Resource Officer Michael Anthony compiled a list of his duties and the time spent on each. Attending club meetings, making class presentations, investigating juvenile crime reports, participating in youth programs are just part a school resource officer’s job, according to Anthony.
“The school resource officer is a community role model and is present to provide a positive image of the police department. Their presence also allows contact between the students and a police officer in a non-controversial setting,” Anthony said.
The grant will allow the school and police department to expand the school resource officer position to include more functions, Vanatta said. He and school district Superintendent Duane Wrightson had worked up some general job guidelines, but did not plan to finish until notified they had received the grant.
The $125,000 grant will fully pay for the officer for two years. The third year, the police department will provide a $5,000 match. After three years, the school district and the police department will co-fund the position at a 75 percent to 25 percent ratio, respectively.
Even with the funds, Vanatta doesn’t believe another officer will be in the schools until the 2001-2002 school year. He plans to use an existing officer as the school resource officer, but will not make the transfer until another officer is hired and trained to take over patrol duties. That in itself could be a long-term process because the department is experiencing problems finding qualified people.
“It might take us two months just to hire someone, assuming we get good candidates,” Vanatta said.
The patrol officer would then have to participate in a three-month field training program.