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Posted on: November 9, 2017

Safety 101: Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarms

kidde smoke alarm

Protect your family this winter

By now everyone has changed their clocks, but have you changed the batteries in your carbon monoxide (CO) and smoke alarms and ensured they are working properly? Working alarms are essential to protecting you and your family when life-threatening incidents occur, such as a fire or carbon monoxide poisoning.

North Metro Fire Rescue District recommends that residents have separate CO and smoke alarms because heat and smoke rises, while carbon monoxide disperses in the air. Smoke alarms should be installed up high and CO alarms at knee-height. Residents should check their alarms monthly and change the batteries out twice a year. A great way to remember this tip is to change your batteries when you change your clocks for daylight savings. Additionally, alarms should be replaced according to the manufacturer’s instructions, usually every 10 years.

The invisible killer

When temperatures drop, the calls go up for North Metro Fire as the risk for carbon monoxide poisoning increases.  Carbon monoxide (CO) is an odorless, poisonous gas that’s produced when fuels such as coal, wood, charcoal, oil, kerosene, propane and natural gas don’t completely burn off. Many common items including portable fuel-powered generators and heaters, furnaces, grills, cars and lawn mowers can produce carbon monoxide.

Unlike if you had a natural gas leak, carbon monoxide carries no smell and can go undetected if you don’t have working CO alarms in your home. Over 150 people in the United States die every year from CO produced by consumer products, and thousands are sent to the emergency room with CO poisoning (Consumer Product Safety Commission).

Here are some tips to help keep your family safe from CO poisoning:

  • Install certified CO alarms, according to the manufacturer’s instructions, outside each sleeping area and on every level of the home (Colorado law requires an alarm within 15 feet of each sleeping room when the house has an attached garage, fireplace or fuel-powered appliance).  
  • If your CO alarm sounds, go outside immediately and call 911. If you can’t get outside, get fresh air through an open window.
  • When running fuel-powered equipment or your vehicle, make sure it isn’t in or near an enclosed area (such as a closed garage or indoors) that would keep the carbon monoxide gas from escaping. Even with open doors and windows, these spaces can trap CO and allow it to quickly build to lethal levels.
  • Make sure vents for the dryer, furnace, stove and fireplace are clear of debris, including snow during and after a snowstorm.
  • Don’t use your oven or stove to heat your home.
  • Have heating equipment and chimneys professionally inspected every year before winter.

Symptoms of CO poisoning initially can be similar to flu symptoms, including: headache, fatigue, shortness of breath, nausea and dizziness. With higher levels of poisoning, a victim may experience mental confusion, vomiting, lack of coordination and eventually may die without access to fresh air and medical attention. If you experience these symptoms, get outside immediately and call 911 for assistance.  

What kind of smoke alarm is right for you

When there’s a fire in the home, you have very little time to evacuate from the home. Roughly three out of five fire deaths happen in homes with no smoke alarms or no working smoke alarms (National Fire Protection Association). Residents should consider installing both ionization and photoelectric alarms because they help detect both flaming fires and smoldering fires.

Flaming fires are typically caused by open flames igniting household materials, such as a candle catching a curtain on fire. On the other hand, smoldering fires, which research shows are the deadliest kind, don’t create flames quickly. They are typically caused by smoking materials, like cigarettes, that are improperly put out.

Ionization smoke alarms detect flaming fires, and photoelectric alarms better detect smoldering fires. There are dual-sensor smoke alarms that combine the two technologies that residents can purchase as well. Smoke alarms should be interconnected and installed on every floor, inside each bedroom and outside each sleeping area.

North Metro Fire encourages parents to practice evacuation drills with their children, even staging a drill in the middle of the night, to ensure kids hear the alarm and quickly escape to the family’s meeting point.

While emergencies in the home can be scary, they don’t have to claim a life. Make sure your CO and smoke alarms are in good working order to help protect your family throughout the year. If you are an elderly member and need help installing or replacing the batteries in your alarm, or if you can't afford a smoke or CO alarm, contact North Metro Fire at 303-452-9910. We will do our best to assist you.

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