Residents urged to check carbon monoxide, smoke detectors

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— As the nights get colder and residents begin turning on the heat, local fire chiefs are encouraging everyone to make sure their furnaces and carbon monoxide detectors are working properly.

On Thursday morning, a North Routt County family tested positive for exposure to carbon monoxide possibly from the furnace they family started using a week ago.

North Routt Fire Protection District Chief Bob Reilley said that a CO detector went off at the home Wednesday night and that the family members had classic symptoms of CO poisoning such as headaches and nausea. Another typical symptom of CO poisoning is feeling tired, which can be deadly if a victim falls asleep.

The North Routt family chose not to spend the night at the home after the alarm went off, and they called the fire department the next day. Reilley said firefighters were unable to measure CO in the home Thursday, but two of the four family members tested positive for exposure. Reilley said they did not need medical treatment, and the family was contacting a technician to locate the source of the poisonous gas.

CO is the odorless and colorless byproduct of incomplete combustion from fuel-burning devices such as furnaces. Reilley and Steamboat Springs Fire Rescue Chief Mel Stewart said their departments respond to CO alarms each year that turn out being true alarms. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 500 deaths and 15,000 emergency room visits occur each year because of unintentional CO exposure in the United States. Between 1999 and 2004, there were 60 CO deaths in Colorado.

“We’ve had some close calls,” Stewart said.

The fire departments recommend that residents have their furnaces and appliances inspected annually by a technician to make sure they are running efficiently and not leaking CO into living spaces. Stewart said this can occur when something is wrong with the combustion of the fuel, such as natural gas or propane. A bird's nest in a vent pipe also could prevent the poisonous gas from being vented outside.

Also this time of year, the fire departments recommend residents replace their CO and smoke alarm batteries. At least one CO detector is recommended inside each home, and CO detectors need to be replaced every five years because the sensors wear out, Stewart said.

If a CO alarm goes off, Stewart said, people should call the fire department and leave their home.

“If you’ve got any doubt, call 911 and leave your home,” Stewart said.

The fire departments have a device that can detect carbon monoxide in a home. Firefighters also carry a device that is placed on a person’s finger to painlessly see whether the person has been exposed to CO.

To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247 or email mstensland@SteamboatToday.com

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