Don’t ignore risk of carbon monoxideI remember my wife yelling, telling me to wake up. It was about 3 a.m. on a Sunday in March. Our carbon monoxide detector was going off, and I was about to learn how valuable that little device really was.
By: Logan C. Adams, The Jamestown Sun
I remember my wife yelling, telling me to wake up.
It was about 3 a.m. on a Sunday in March. Our carbon monoxide detector was going off, and I was about to learn how valuable that little device really was.
I got up, walked over to the detector and took it off the wall. The little white disc was letting out shrill beeping sounds as I read the instructions on the back, feeling confused and wanting to make sure it wasn’t a malfunction.
The writing on the back confirmed the device had detected the poisonous gas. I couldn’t believe it, but then I noticed my headache and how tired my lungs felt.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, carbon monoxide inhibits red blood cells from taking in oxygen and sending it to the rest of the body. Symptoms of exposure can also include impaired vision and coordination, headaches, dizziness, confusion, nausea and flu-like symptoms. At higher exposures, it can reduce brain function and eventually cause death. The gas is produced by automobile engines and malfunctioning fuel-burning appliances.
My wife left to stay at her parents’ house and I stood outside in the fresh air and called for the fire department. While I waited for the firefighters to put their gear together and come check out our home, I realized that our neighbors next door, who share a wall with us in our duplex, could also be affected by any poisonous gases that were in our half of the building.
I started knocking on their door and ringing their doorbell every few seconds, hoping to get them awake. I did this for several minutes with no response, and I started to worry they couldn’t hear me.
Moments later, a Jamestown police officer pulled up. It turns out I had gotten my neighbors’ attention a little too well and they’d called the police, thinking I meant them harm.
My neighbors, Josh and Jeannie Walker, came out and cleared up the issue with the officer and I was able to tell them what all the fuss was about. Then the firefighters pulled up.
In all the excitement, it felt like it took ages for the firefighters to arrive, but it was really only about 10 minutes. They got out their commercial-grade gas detector and found 60 parts per million of carbon monoxide in our house, which was an unsafe level on the chart the firefighters gave me. I took their advice to stay somewhere else that night and left to join my wife as they went to check the Walkers’ home for contamination.
I later learned the firefighters found 430 parts per million of the gas — a level that is potentially fatal after a few hours — in my neighbors’ home and they went to the hospital, where they spent several hours breathing pure oxygen to get the carbon monoxide out of their systems.
It turns out that my neighbors’ furnace had malfunctioned and started filling their home with odorless, colorless carbon monoxide. It seeped through the wall into our home, where it set off our detector.
I shudder to think what might have happened if we hadn’t had that detector, which was a gift from my wife’s mother. Our neighbors could have died and, had more gas seeped into our home, my wife and I could have become ill or worse.
We are not alone in having had a close call with carbon monoxide. Ours was just one out of many such incidents in this city.
Jamestown Fire Chief Jim Reuther told me his department responded to 30 reports of carbon monoxide in Jamestown homes in 2011 and found that gas was present in six of those incidents. In 2010, there were 39 calls made about reports of the gas and it was confirmed present in 17 of those incidents.
Reuther said public awareness of carbon monoxide danger grew significantly in October 2009 after several students staying overnight in a Jamestown church became very ill from exposure to the gas and several were hospitalized. He said many residents bought and installed detectors after the incident, but there are still many homes in Jamestown without them, which the fire department has been working to change through public education efforts.
“I consider them just as important as smoke detectors,” he said, and added that fire escape plans are another valuable precaution many families overlook.
Reuther said that state law requires all rental units to have working smoke detectors, but there are no laws here that require carbon monoxide detectors. He said he would support requiring landlords to install such devices in all rentals, either at the city or state level.
I agree that such a measure would be wise and I encourage our city and state leaders to look into it.
But it will probably be some time until such a law comes to pass. This is why I urge you, reading this now, whether you own or rent your home, to go out and buy your own carbon monoxide detector. They are inexpensive, easy to set up and can save you from losing everything you care about.
I also urge rental owners to make sure every one of their units is protected with a working detector, law or no law. Remember: dead tenants can’t pay their rent.
As for my neighbors, Josh Walker told me the carbon monoxide’s effects still haven’t worn off completely and they feel very tired much of the time. They have a new furnace now, though, and have installed detectors on both floors of their home.
(Logan C. Adams is assistant editor of The Jamestown Sun. He can be reached at 701-952-8451 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org)