Gas Emergencies: Carbon Monoxide
Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless, tasteless, poisonous gas that even insufficient amounts may be deadly. The incomplete combustion carbon-based fuels such as coal, wood, charcoal, oil, kerosene, propane and natural gas releases carbon monoxide. Gas powered equipment such as cars, portable generators, lawn mowers, and power washers also produce carbon monoxide. Unvented gas space heaters, gas fireplaces, gas stoves, indoor use of charcoal or gas grills can also cause the release of this gas. In poorly vented areas, carbon monoxide will accumulate. A poorly ventilated or deficient appliance or furnace, cars idling inside attached garages, and chimneys and flues that are improperly installed or maintained can release carbon monoxide.
Symptoms of Carbon Monoxide Exposure
Throughout the United States an estimated 1,500 people die each year because of carbon monoxide poisoning and thousands are hospitalized. When carbon monoxide is inhaled, it interferes with the body’s ability to bring oxygen to the cells. High concentrations of carbon monoxide can cause unconsciousness and death within a few minutes of exposure. Lower concentrations can cause an assortment of symptoms such as fatigue, headaches, weakness, nausea, dizziness, and confusion. The symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning can seen similar to flu symptoms.
Carbon Monoxide Detector
Carbon monoxide detectors are widely available at hardware or appliance stores throughout the United States. When purchasing a detector, purchase a quality unit and follow the manufacturer’s instructions for installation and placement. Carbon monoxide detectors are designed to activate before hazardous levels of carbon monoxide are reached. Detectors should be installed according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Generally, at least one carbon monoxide detector should be placed on each level of the home and near each separate sleeping area of the home.
Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Checklist
Ensure that all appliances are in proper working order according to the manufacturer's instructions and local building codes.
Have a qualified professional inspect boilers, furnaces, oil or gas-fired water heaters, flues, and chimneys, inspected annually and promptly repair cracks or damaged parts.
Never operate a portable generator or any gasoline-powered engine in or near an enclosed space such as a garage, house or building.
Never use a generator in an attached garage, even with the door open.
Place generators so that exhaust fumes do not enter the home through windows, doors or other openings.
Never leave a car running in an attached garage, even with the garage door open, carbon monoxide can quickly build to lethal levels.
Never use gas appliances such as ranges or ovens to heat your home.
If you suspect that combustion gases have entered the building leave the building immediately and call for help.
Emergency Action: Carbon Monoxide
If you or someone is experiencing symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning or the carbon monoxide detector is sounding, one should immediately proceed to fresh air. When outside call 9-1-1 and report the emergency and symptoms to the dispatcher. Do not reenter the premises, you could lose consciousness and die from the poisoning. Reenter the premises only after the fire department determines it is safe. If you are experiencing any symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning, prompt medical attention is necessary.
Gas Emergencies: Natural Gas
Natural gas is used as heating fuel by more than half of the homes in the United States. Natural gas is also used to fuel stoves, water heaters, clothes dryers, and other household appliances. Natural gas is odorless, colorless, non-toxic and non-poisonous, lighter than air, and extremely combustible. Natural gas is odorless in its natural state and does not smell; however, usually an odorant that smells like rotten-eggs is added by utility companies for safety reasons before distribution. This smell will help distinguish a leak. However, natural gas may displace air in an enclosed space and a person may be asphyxiated due to the lack of available oxygen. If a natural gas leak occurs it can be ignited by a pilot light, electrical sparks, matches, smoking materials or other sources of ignition which can lead to fire or even an explosion.
Emergency Action: Natural Gas
If you smell a faint gas odor, check if the gas stove and oven have been turned off properly. If the gas stove was on, open the windows and allow fresh air in so the gas can escape. When the odor diminishes, have a qualified professional check that the appliance is working properly. If you cannot identify the source of the order, notify 9-1-1 of the emergency. For a strong odor of gas leave the building immediately and call 9-1-1 and notify them of the emergency.
Gasoline and other Flammable Liquids
Gasoline and flammable liquids are extremely dangerous and should be stored safely outside the home in a shed. When using gasoline or flammable liquids, it is important to use caution. When fueling gas powered equipment always do so outside and away from enclosed areas and any source of sparks or heat. Never fuel gas powered equipment when it is running or hot. Let the equipment cool before fueling. Never use gasoline or any flammable liquid to start a fire. This is extremely dangerous and should never be done.