As New Hampshire residents start turning on the heat to combat colder daytime and evening temperatures, fire departments and emergency responders expect an uptick in calls for help related to carbon monoxide exposure. To educate citizens about the elevated risks associated with carbon monoxide in colder weather, State Fire Marshal Paul J. Parisi and The New Hampshire/Vermont CO Alliance are committed to putting this issue at the forefront throughout November, which has been recognized as Carbon Monoxide Awareness month in our state since 2010.
Marshal Parisi wants to remind residents that, as people spend more time indoors and the heating season begins, it is important to realize carbon monoxide poisoning is a deadly threat within your home and is particularly dangerous because we cannot see, smell or taste it.
“Carbon monoxide (CO) gas is created whenever a fossil fuel such as oil, wood, gas, charcoal or kerosene is burned. These are all commonly used within heating systems in our region and as winter approaches, our use of them increases. These factors raise potential for dangerous levels of carbon monoxide to build up in our homes. Basically, when people breathe in the carbon monoxide gas it replaces oxygen in the body and can suffocate you before you realize what is happening,” says Marshal Parisi.
To combat this risk, here are some tips:
- DO have your heating system and water heater serviced every year by a licensed, qualified professional. The company that delivers your fuel typically has HVAC technicians and is often a good choice, or the home inspector if you are in the process of purchasing a home.
- When you buy gas-powered equipment, DO make sure it displays the seal of a national testing agency, such as Underwriter’s Laboratories (UL).
- DO have your chimney checked annually to make sure it’s not blocked by debris, which can cause CO to build up in homes and cabins.
- DON’T ever use gum, tape, or other materials to patch a vent pipe.
- DON’T ever use a generator, portable gas camp stove, grill or hibachi indoors.
- DON’T try to heat your home with a gas range or oven.
Nationwide, hundreds of people die accidentally every year from CO poisoning, often caused by malfunctioning or improperly used fuel-burning furnaces or appliances. Marshal Parisi advises, “Install a battery-operated or battery-backup carbon monoxide detector (CMD) in your home, whether you live in a single-family home, multi-unit dwelling, or a rental unit. You want to make sure they are installed outside each bedroom, and on each floor including the basement because over a third of CO-related fatalities happen when victims are asleep.”
Last year, emergency services personnel responded to 1,100 incidents in New Hampshire where carbon monoxide was a threat. With temperatures falling around the state, earlier this week at least two fire departments were called to properties due to carbon monoxide, including Keene and Rindge. In neighboring Massachusetts, there was a carbon monoxide fatality less than two weeks ago (Oct. 18, 2018), which may be related to a home heating system. These incidents underscore the importance of CO alarms. Symptoms of CO poisoning can mimic viruses such as cold or flu and may include headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, sleepiness, and confusion.
“Do not ignore symptoms, particularly if more than one person is feeling them. Marshal Parisi warns, “If you suspect CO poisoning, get outside to fresh air immediately, and then call 9-1-1.”