Kimberton Fire Company
Kimberton Fire Company
Kimberton Fire Company

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          What You Should Know About Carbon Monoxide (CO)

According to the centers for disease control, CO kills an estimated 2,100 people per year.
The American Association of Poison Control Centers reports carbon monoxide incidents account
for more than 40,000 emergency room visits and 20,000 health-related injuries each year. A recent study at a Midwest hospital found that 5-10 percent of the patients who presented themselves with flu-like symptoms actually had CO poisoning.

As temperatures across the nation drop, fire service professionals know that residential carbon monoxide (CO) incidents will be on the rise. We hope that with this section of our web page we can help you understand and prevent the number one cause of poisoning deaths in America.

CO SYMPTOMS

Symptoms from early exposure mimic the flu:
Headaches, nausea, dizziness, shortness of breath & confusion

CO FUEL SOURCES

CO is produced when fossil fuels burn incompletely because of insufficient oxygen. These fuels include natural gas, propane, kerosene, gasoline, coal, wood and charcoal.

CO COMBUSTION SOURCES

Furnace, water heater, oven, range, clothes dryer, fireplace, space heater, charcoal grill, wood-burning stove or an idling vehicle in an attached garage.

CO INCIDENTS

Problems can result from improper installation, poor maintenance or inadequate ventilation. Negative pressure can occur inside a home due to outside weather conditions (strong wind), or from exhaust fans in the kitchen and bathroom, or exhaust from a clothes dryer. For a house to breathe properly, the air exhausted from the inside must be replaced by an equal amount of outside air. In tightly sealed homes, this negative pressure can force flue gases to reverse flow - or backdraft into the living space. These incidents are the most difficult to find or replace.

CO EXPOSURE

parts per million
9 PPM EPA residential standard - not to exceed an 8 hour average
400 PPM life threatening after 3 hours
800 PPM death within 2 hours
1600 PPM death within 1 hour
12,800 PPM death within 1-3 minutes
1,600 PPM smoldering fire, faulty furnace, kitchen range, or water heater
3,200 PPM charcoal grill
70,000 PPM tailpipe exhaust on a cold weather start

CO ALARM STANDARDS

(underwriters Laboratories)
70 PPM present alarm must sound within 1-4 hours
150 PPM present alarm must sound within 10-50 minutes
400 PPM present alarm must sound within 4-15 minutes

INSTALLATION RECOMMENDATIONS

CO alarms should be installed outside of sleeping areas and approximately 10 feet from fuel-burning appliances. For added protection, alarms should be on every level of the home. If the alarm sounds, UL advises to try the reset button, call 9-1-1 and seek fresh air.

Important Notice: The Kimberton Fire Co requests that in the event of a CO detector activation that you immediately evacuate from the building, call 9-1-1 and do NOT open any windows, since this makes detection of CO very difficult. We will ventilate the building after we have inspected it with our meters (which are much more accurate than home units).

VIDEO AVAILABLE

The Kimberton Fire Co has an educational video available courtesy of Kidde that reviews the above information in a simple and informative presentation. To borrow this video contact the Fire Chief at 610-935-1388 or his voice mail system at 610-933-4566 (voice mailbox #3) and leave a message.

                 Most Consumers Don't Respond to Carbon Monoxide Alarms

Provider: Knight Ridder/Tribune
WRITTEN BY : Sherry Jacobson

DALLAS, Texas--When the carbon monoxide monitor started shrieking in Jesus Chairez's apartment on a recent cold and drafty night, he mistakenly did the wrong thing.

"My first thought was that something was wrong with the alarm," he recalls of jumping out of bed to try to disable the noisy contraption on that night in November. "If I'd been sick or something, I'm sure I would have called the fire department to check it out."

More than just about anyone in Dallas, Chairez should have known to dial 911. He is the local information officer for the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. It has long been his job to persuade people to install home detectors that warn against the deadly presence of the odorless, colorless and tasteless gas.

"My friends call me 'Mr. Safety,'" he says of his propensity to scold others for the safety hazards he finds in their homes and for his habit of giving smoke and carbon monoxide detectors as gifts.

But it is not surprising that he didn't know exactly what to do when his detector went off. Most people fail to notify the fire department when a carbon monoxide alarm sounds at home, according to a recent study by the Gas Research Institute, the research arm of the natural gas industry. It found that only 14 percent of the alarm owners interviewed in four cities called the fire department when their detectors sounded, while 10 percent called a utility company and 5 percent called a friend or family member.

Most surprising was that almost 62 percent of those surveyed called no one. When asked to explain what they did about the alarm, 30 percent said they discovered the source of the carbon monoxide leak and fixed it. About 23 percent said they suspected it was a false alarm. The others simply reset the detector and found it didn't go off again or followed the manufacturer's directions and determined there was no problem.

At high levels, carbon monoxide can kill a person in minutes, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. At moderate levels, it can cause severe headaches, dizziness, mental confusion, nausea or fainting. Mild levels can cause shortness of breath, mild nausea and headaches and long-term health effects.

Dallas fire officials say it worries them to hear that people are not calling for help when their carbon monoxide alarms are triggered. All 95 of the department's trucks and fire apparatus are outfitted with monitors that can find the source of such gas leaks.

"Carbon monoxide is a silent killer," says Capt. Benny Howard, who oversees the department's hazardous materials unit. "The fire department is pushing smoke detectors because they save lives. Carbon monoxide detectors do too."

When someone calls 911 about a carbon monoxide alert and no one is sick, the operator will tell them to leave the house anyway, he says. "We send firefighters inside wearing breathing apparatus and carrying the monitors. We don't let people back in until we've pinpointed the source of the leak."

Of the 208 emergency calls triggered by carbon monoxide alarms in Dallas last year, more than half had detectable levels of the gas, he says. In 28 cases, people were so ill that they required medical treatment.

In Chairez's defense, he says he failed to call authorities that night because he did not feel sick. But he did do a couple things right, including airing out his apartment and turning off an ancient gas heater in the fireplace before crawling back into bed. He subsequently determined that the heater was leaking carbon monoxide into the living room, adjacent to where he was sleeping. He no longer uses the heater.

Important notice: The Kimberton Fire Co. requests that in the event of a CO detector activation, that you immediately evacuate everyone from the building, call 911, do not open windows, since this makes detection of CO very difficult, we will ventilate the building after we have inspected it with our CO Detectors (much more accurate than home units), if necessary.

The push for carbon monoxide monitoring is a national effort to prevent the nearly 300 deaths each year and 10,000 emergency room visits that result from accidentally breathing the gas in residential settings.

So far, only a few major cities, including Chicago, Toronto and Albany, N.Y., require the monitors to be installed in certain residential settings. Nationally, 15 to 20 percent of U.S. households have the detectors.

"We think every home ought to have a carbon monoxide detector," says Ken Giles, a national spokesman for the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. "Carbon monoxide is a senseless killer."

Winter is the most likely time for carbon monoxide poisoning in residential settings because homes are closed up, allowing dangerous levels of the gas to build up when a malfunction occurs in a furnace or appliance that uses fuel, experts say. Automobile exhaust also can seep into homes, poisoning unsuspecting occupants.

Without an alarm, say proponents, it is easy to mistake the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning for the flu. Most people are not aware of the many ways they can be exposed to the gas, which is caused by the burning of gasoline, oil, kerosene, wood or charcoal.

In the absence of carbon monoxide detectors, emergency room workers often must alert the fire department when they find high levels of carbon monoxide in the blood of their patients, officials say.

Two years ago, for example, 11 occupants of an Dallas area apartment were rushed to Parkland Memorial Hospital, all of them extremely ill. After blood tests indicated that carbon monoxide was to blame, fire investigators were sent back and found a broken furnace flue in the wall of the apartment.

Home is not the only place that such poisonings can occur. According to the National Injury Information Clearinghouse, people have sought treatment for carbon monoxide exposure in churches, day-care centers and beauty salons across the country in the last five years. People have passed out watching television, repairing their cars in the garage and visiting grandma, all because of carbon monoxide.

"Using a charcoal grill inside the house causes about 25 deaths every year," says Giles, the consumer agency's spokesman.

Charcoal grills in the backyard also have sickened hundreds of people when fumes are allowed to pass through open windows into the house. Faulty pilot lights also have been the source of many illnesses.

Although emergency experts applaud the use of carbon monoxide detectors, the alarms have their share of problems. Last year, the agency recalled about 1 million of the safety devices because they went off too late or not at all when tested with high levels of gas.

The recall was prompted by a study by the Gas Research Institute, which determined that 12 out of 80 carbon monoxide detectors, about 15 percent, were defective at the time of purchase. "There's still a number of them that do not work very well," says Steve Wiersma, program manager of health and safety issues for the research center, which recently was renamed the Gas Technology Institution.

"Some (detectors) go off earlier than they should," he says, noting that most alarms sound when the level of carbon monoxide is not considered dangerous. "It's essentially a false alarm and people start ignoring them. They lose consumer confidence."

There is a continuing debate over how the monitors should function, including the levels of carbon monoxide that should be measured before the alarm sounds. The gas industry would like the detectors to sound at a level that would sicken a healthy person, such as breathing 70 parts of carbon monoxide per million parts of oxygen for longer than 90 minutes.

"With carbon monoxide, it's an issue of exposure time as well as the level of gas that you're exposed to," Wiersma says. "Long-term exposure to 10 parts of carbon monoxide per million does not affect a normal healthy person."

However, fire officials and consumer protection experts want the levels to be much lower, based on the amount of carbon monoxide that would be dangerous for an elderly or sick person to breathe.

The most popular carbon monoxide alarms go off at exposure levels as low as 10 parts per million, it is noted. However, the Dallas Fire Department allows residents to return to a home where carbon monoxide is less than 35 parts per million. At higher levels, the source of the gas leak must be located and repaired, Howard says.

"Unfortunately, the alarm standards are built around healthy human beings, not the elderly and children, who have a lower tolerance," he says. "We'd rather error on the side of caution. You can't be too careful when you're dealing with something as silent and deadly as carbon monoxide."

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Kimberton Fire Company
Physical Address: 61 Firehouse Lane
GPS Address: 2276 Kimberton Road
Kimberton, PA 19442
Emergency Dial 911
Non-Emergency: 610-935-1388
Station Fax: 610-935-3956
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E-mail: secretary@kimbertonfire.org
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