Safety For You: Prevent carbon monoxide poisoning during winter storms

Safety For You
Carbon Monoxide_247379

Like fire, carbon monoxide (CO) is just as deadly.  It’s called the silent killer because it’s colorless, odorless and invisible.  More than 400 people in the United States die every year from accidental nonfire-related CO poisoning associated with consumer products, including generators.  When you breathe in CO, it makes you feel nauseas, dizzy, headachy, and tired like you have the flu.  It also makes it difficult to think clearly.  CO poisons the body by removing oxygen in the blood stream, slowing suffocating you and eventually causing unconsciousness and even death.

“Mid-Michigan is in the target for a major winter storm producing heavy rain, ice and snow accumulation this weekend and the potential for extended power outages is likely”, according to Lt. Michael McLeieer, President of the Michigan State Firemen’s Association.  “The strongest risk factor for CO poisoning during and after a winter storm is locating a generator in a basement or an attached structure such as a garage. Cases of CO poisoning can be expected in the early aftermath of a severe ice storm. Generators are a major CO source and the proper location of a generator is critical for their safe use,” according to McLeieer.

CO Facts & figures

  • The dangers of CO exposure depend on a number of variables, including the victim’s health and activity level. Infants, pregnant women, and people with physical conditions that limit their body’s ability to use oxygen (i.e. emphysema, asthma, heart disease) can be more severely affected by lower concentrations of CO than healthy adults would be.                             
  • A person can be poisoned by a small amount of CO over a longer period of time or by a large amount of CO over a shorter amount of time.

  • More than 20,000 people visit emergency rooms across the U.S. and more than 4,000 are hospitalized each year.

What can you do?

  • Install a CO alarm on every level of your home.  Replace alarms that are over five years old.
  • Never use a generator inside your home or attached garage.  Place the generator away from your home.
  • Have a licensed contractor inspect and service your gas-fired heating and cooking appliances at least annually.
  • If you lose your power and have to seek shelter in a hotel or motel, bring a travel carbon monoxide (CO) alarm with you to place in your room.

What to do if you suspect CO exposure

• Get out of the house or car and get fresh air.
• Call 9-1-1 or the fire department from the fresh air location. Remain there until emergency personnel declare that it is safe to reenter the home.
• If you have symptoms, seek medical help immediately.

Other Safety Tips During a Winter Storm

  • During a power outage, always use LED lamps or flashlights.  Avoid using candles or other open flame.
  • Never use an oven or stove for heat.
  • Test your smoke alarms at least once a month and replace alarms every 10 years.
  • Have two ways out of any room in case of a fire.  Go outside to a meeting place, call 911 and remain at the meeting place until emergency responders arrive.  Examples of a meeting place include a tree in the front yard, a sidewalk, or your neighbor’s house.

For more information on carbon monoxide and generator safety, please visit the National Fire Protection Association or the United States Fire Administration websites.  Remember, Fire Is Everyone’s Fight®.

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