Saturday, December 13, 2014

Carbon monoxide education vital issue for area fire departments - by Michelle Libby

Last Thursday, fire chiefs from area departments and the local legislative delegation gathered at the Windham Public Safety building to discuss Carbon Monoxide (CO), its dangers and symptoms and ways to keep families safe this winter. 
“We want to send out the message for other communities on education and awareness,” said State Senator Bill Diamond, who moderated the press conference. “Carbon Monoxide detectors haven’t caught on like they should.” 

“Any fossil fuels you burn can generate carbon monoxide,” said Fire Chief Brent Libby from Standish. The symptoms of CO poisoning are headaches, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, chest pain and confusion. “Know and respond to the symptoms,” he added. 

There were 170 deaths nationwide between the years 2005 to 2011 due to CO poisoning. Twenty of those deaths were in Maine. Over 800 people were taken to the ER with CO symptoms.
Carbon Monoxide mixes with air and people breathe it in causing them to have symptoms because of the misplaced oxygen. They fall asleep and never wake up. 
In 2011, Raymond experienced a double fatality because of CO. The home had a properly installed generator, but it had not been maintained and there were no CO alarms in the home, said Raymond Fire Chief Bruce Tupper. 

Public buildings are not exempt from the danger of CO poisoning. Raymond Elementary School had to be evacuated because of a CO incident last winter, said Tupper. No one was injured in that incident.
Carbon Monoxide detectors can be battery operated, or hard wired if it’s plugged into a wall outlet with the battery backup.   

CO poisoning is preventable if there is a detector in all sleeping areas in a home, said Chief Jason Moen from Casco. “Change batteries every daylight savings time,” he added. It’s not just for smoke detectors anymore. He also recommended that homeowners have their chimneys cleaned once a year and clean power vents in pellet stoves. 

Cars, snowmobiles and other engines should never be left running in the garage. People can quickly be overcome by the CO from the exhaust. Generators should be run outside of a home at least 20 feet from any building. 

South Portland Captain Mike Williams is the second district vice president of the Professional Firefighters of Maine, a group that works with 28 units or departments and personnel, discussed legislature that is being addressed to make CO detectors more regulated in places like hotels and inns, as well as in multi-family dwellings. At this time CO detectors are required to be added to a home before it is sold or if it is a new construction or a rental. 

“Change does not happen until a tragedy happens. Why should we wait until someone dies to take action?” Williams asked. There is a financial cost, approximately $35, associated with purchasing a detector, but putting a price on a life makes the cost justifiable. It is recommended that there be a CO detector on every floor of a home. The legislature plans to use a common sense approach to CO detectors. They don’t want to mandate them for everyone, but strongly recommend them. 

Windham is not without its tragedies. A father and son were using a Salamander heater during a power outage. The CO level in the home was 800 to 900 parts per million. The first responders “rushed in to rescue the victims and were overcome in a short period of time. They were hospitalized overnight,” Windham Chief Charlie Hammond said. “It mixes really well with air. You can’t taste it, smell it or see it.”

Windham has been handing out CO detectors purchased through a grant since last year and still have a few left. “We handed them out to people who can’t afford them,” said Hammond. “What we’re doing today could save a life.” 

Rep. Mark Bryant has seen the effects of CO poisoning in our community. “We’re here to support that legislation. It’s not just a little town problem,” Bryant said. “It’s a silent killer.”

A CO detector is equally as effective as a smoke detector as long as it is plugged in. 

Fire departments have brochures to help educate the public and will continue to encourage other districts to spread the word about the dangers of this gas. 

All of the chiefs agreed that awareness and education are the key ingredients to keeping residents safe this heating season.

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