February 3, 2011

Don't fall victim to silent killer

Union Leader Correspondent
DERRY -- Two separate calls to the Derry Fire Department Tuesday for possible carbon monoxide poisoning prompted the department to issue a reminder on Wednesday to residents to clear heating vents and fresh air intakes, typically located only a few feetabove ground level outside a home. Derry Fire Battalion Chief David Hoffman said Wednesday that any appliance that heats up — from propane, pellet or wood stoves to gas or oil burning units — requires proper ventilation of exhaust. 
“Make it part of your routine when shoveling to check your vents,” said Hoffman. “Outside vents can quickly become overwhelmed with snow, particularly given the number of snow events we’ve had in the past two weeks.” 
According to Deputy State Fire Marshal John Southwell, there have been 15 accidental deaths attributed to carbon monoxide inhalation in New Hampshire since 2005. 
“That doesn’t take into account the number of incidents reported annually in which someone falls ill and it turns out to be related to carbon monoxide,” Southwell said. 
Carbon monoxide poisoning is considered a “silent killer,” which often begins with subtle symptoms including nausea, headache and vague flu symptoms. Because carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas, is indiscernible without an in-home CO detector, a small device that looks and operates much like a household smoke detector and costs about $25. 
Salem Fire Marshal Jeffrey Emanuelson said even dryer and hot water vents need to be checked and cleared regularly, expecting that snowdrifts or mounds of snow falling from a roof can block vents that have already been cleared. 
“With the amount of snow we’ve had in these back-toback storms, it seems like every two or three days for the past few weeks snow has been an issue. Keeping vents clear is imperative,” Emanuelson said. 
Nashua Deputy Fire Chief John Allison said yesterday that while calls for CO alarms are commonplace throughout the year, there have not been any in the past few weeks. 
“We’ve been busy with cars accidents and water problems due to frozen pipes, but so far no calls for carbon monoxide issues — but it’s that time of year, and the potential is always there,” Allison said. 
Keene Fire Capt. Ronald Leslie said his department fielded a few carbon monoxide calls last week, including one from a woman who had left her car running inside the garage of her condominium complex. 
“Even 10 minutes in an attached garage is enough to elevate CO levels: It’s never a good idea to leave the car running. If you are going to start your car ahead, make sure you pull it out of the garage first,” Leslie said. 
Plaistow Fire Chief John McArdle said he has had one carbon monoxide call, which turned out to be a battery problem with the detector. He would much rather answer a false alarm then find someone unconscious and overcome by fumes. 
“I caution people that if they aren’t sure, better to give us a call and we’ll check out the CO levels, just to be safe. Also, it’s wise to keep the instructions to your detector handy, just so you can check the batteries yourself,” McArdle said. 
Another safety measure residents should be mindful of is clearing at least one good pathway to their home, McArdle said. 
“It’s best to have two ways out, if possible. People will typically shovel a small path to their door for their convenience, but for safety reasons, it’s important to have enough room for emergency equipment, to be prepared,” McArdle said. 
Derry Fire planned Wednesday at 5 p.m. to send out a mass call to residents using its Code Red electronic alert system, to remind people of the specific hazard of carbon monoxide gas from blocked vents. 
The big hurdle, beyond getting the word out, is getting the public on board with installing CO detectors, ideally on every level of their home, said Hoffman. 
“They still aren’t as widely used as smoke detectors, which is why we’re having this conversation,” Hoffman said. 

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