A new tool to fight the ‘quiet killer,’ carbon monoxide

Mike Page the Grand Junction Fire Department’s Public Information Office demonstrates the new carbon monoxide breathalyzer this morning at Fire Station No.1.The new device at the Grand Junction Fire Department allows fire fighters to test people who may have been exposed to carbon monoxide poisoning. While calls are up as the detectors go off, the department has no way of telling if a person has been affected. The breathalyzer is a new tool to measure how much a person has taken in.


Carbon monoxide

Dubbed the quiet killer, carbon monoxide can kill almost instantly if found in high concentrations.

The gas can be emitted from poorly-maintained heating sources, gas stoves and gas-powered generators.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends every household purchase a battery-operated CO detector. Models run about $30, and with regular battery replacement, can last about 10 years.

Grand Junction Fire Department spokesman Mike Page said it’s best to place a detector on each floor of your home. However, if you only get one, place it near sleeping quarters and at the manufacturer’s recommended height on a wall.

On Monday a Redlands family did all the right things when their carbon-monoxide detector went off. They called 911 and followed dispatchers orders to open up all the doors and windows and get out of the house fast.

What the family didn’t know at first was that carbon-monoxide emissions had seeped into the home from a vehicle that had been warming up in the garage with the garage door mostly closed earlier that day.

Thanks to a new breathalyzer-like device that arrived Monday at the Grand Junction Fire Department, emergency personnel were able to test the home’s inhabitants for the presence of carbon monoxide in their bodies, and fortunately, their levels were low. Previously, emergency workers were limited to detecting the amount of carbon monoxide levels in the air, and getting an accurate indicator was impossible after the home’s inhabitants opened their doors windows.

The Fire Department obtained six of the handheld units, one for each station, Fire Department spokesman Mike Page said.

The new devices come at a time when the department is receiving an increase in calls from residents reporting their carbon-monoxide detectors going off, probably as more people install the detectors in homes, Page said. When those calls come in, firefighters first ensure a home’s residents are evacuated. Then they determine whether the carbon-monoxide detector malfunctioned or there is a leak in the home.

If the residents’ carbon-monoxide levels are too high and are deemed life-threatening, treatment includes being placed in a hyperbaric oxygen chamber, Page said.

“This just gives us another tool in our arsenal,” he said of the devices. “Unless people show specific symptoms, we don’t know if they’ve been exposed or not.”

“It was really a good thing that they had a CO detector,” Page said of the family.

Carbon monoxide, a colorless, odorless gas, can kill people within minutes. Every year, nearly 500 people die in the United States, and 200,000 receive emergency treatment for carbon-monoxide poisoning, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Symptoms of carbon-monoxide poisoning include dizziness, headache and nausea.


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