The staff of the Orange Fire Marshal's Office have been fielding calls from concerned residents with regard to carbon monoxide emergencies following a tragic event involving carbon monoxide poisoning that claimed the lives of three family members, and sent three additional people to the hospital in East Lyme Sunday, Jan. 11.

As reported by local media, it was found that a blocked chimney was to blame for a buildup of carbon monoxide gas in the home. Carbon monoxide poisoning is a serious threat that people need to get informed about. By educating ourselves on the dangers of carbon monoxide, we can significantly reduce the health risk, as well as save lives. So in response to many of the questions that the Fire Marshal's Office has received, we have decided to include this article to help you and your families stay safe this winter season.

How Does Carbon Monoxide Harm You?

Carbon monoxide is harmful when breathed because it attaches to the hemoglobin, which is the part of the blood that carries the oxygen to the brain, heart, and other vital organs. By attaching itself to the hemoglobin, the carbon monoxide displaces the oxygen, thus depriving your body of much needed oxygen. Large amounts of carbon monoxide can overcome you in minutes without warning, causing you to lose consciousness and suffocate.

What is carbon monoxide?

Carbon Monoxide is an odorless, colorless gas that is a product of combustion. The carbon monoxide produced while using fuel-fired equipment is usually not harmful. Normally, increased carbon monoxide levels in homes are caused by faulty heating equipment, poor maintenance of exhaust systems, or something as simple as allowing your vehicle to warm up in your garage during those cold winter days. How can you reduce the opportunity for increased levels of carbon monoxide in your home? Follow these preventative measures to ensure your family will not suffer from carbon monoxide poisoning:

At the beginning of every heating season, be sure to have your fuel burning equipment such as your oil or gas fired furnaces, water heaters, oven ranges and stoves, clothes dryers, fire places and wood stoves inspected by certified technicians.

Have your flues and chimneys checked for any buildup of creosote or blockage of the chimney.

Be sure to maintain all your fuel-fired equipment as described by the manufacturer's specifications.

NEVER leave your car running in an attached garage. The vapors from the vehicle's exhaust could increase the level of carbon monoxide in your home dramatically in a matter of minutes.

NEVER use a gas stove to heat your home in the event of a power failure or heating equipment failure.

NEVER use charcoal or propane grills indoors. Not only does this pose an extreme carbon monoxide hazard, it is also a sever fire hazard as well.

Think safety first when considering the use of alternative heating, such as space heaters. Make sure the space heater is far away from combustible materials at a minimum of three to four feet. If using fuel fired space heaters, never sleep in a room without proper ventilation. Make sure that all fuel-fired space heaters are equipped with oxygen depletion sensors.

Do not use gasoline-powered equipment in enclosed areas of the home. Such engines create a mass amount of carbon monoxide.

Install carbon monoxide detectors as you would smoke detectors

It is recommended that you should have a carbon monoxide detector on every level of the home, as well as in all sleeping areas. Wen installing your carbon monoxide detectors, be sure not to install them within five feet of any fuel burning equipment. Make it a point to install these live saving alarms. They will not work if they stay in the package on your workbench.

Signs and symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning

Because carbon monoxide is an odorless and colorless gas, it is not always immediately evident when it has become a problem. all too often, people who have mild or moderate problems with carbon monoxide will find they feel sick while they spend time at home. When venturing out into the fresh air, they will begin to feel much better, but will have re-occurring symptoms shortly after returning to their home. People who are most susceptible to the effects of carbon monoxide are infants, elderly residents, those family members who suffer from respiratory or heart disease, or anemia, and women who are pregnant must take special care. However, nobody is immune to the effects of carbon monoxide. Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include the following:

Physical Symptoms: Headache, nausea, vomiting, muscle pain, joint pain, chronic fatigue, dizziness, numbness, tingling, vertigo

Cognitive/Memory Impairments: attention problems, multi-tasking problems, word-finding problems, short-term memory loss, verbal and/or visual deficits.

Affective Disorders (Emotional/Personality Effects): Irritability, anxiety, lack of motivation, temper, loss of interest, sleep disturbance.

Sensory and motor disorders: blurred vision, double vision, buzzing in the ears, decreased coordination, speaking, eating, and swallowing disorders.

Gross Neurological Disorders: Seizures, inability to speak, balance problems, tremors.

What to do in the event of a carbon monoxide emergency

Should you or a family member suspect that there may be an increased level of carbon monoxide in your home, or you have installed the recommended carbon monoxide alarms in your residence and they begin to go into alarm, follow these simple steps to help resolve the problem:

First and foremost CALL 9-1-1! This important step will allow trained first responders with the equipment needed to protect you and your family to investigate the possible presence of carbon monoxide. DO NOT HESITATE TO CALL THIS EMERGENCY NUMBER. Many times, calls will be made directly to a volunteer firehouse, which will delay the response of emergency personnel. After asking the caller why they did not decide to call 9-1-1, more often they state that they did not think this type of situation is what they would consider as an emergency that warranted such a call, when in reality it is.

Get any suspected victim into fresh air immediately.

If you can not get the victim out of the house, open all of the windows and doors to allow fresh air into the home. Be sure to turn off any fuel-fired appliances.

Those persons who have been exposed to elevated levels of carbon monoxide should be taken to the closest hospital as soon as possible. A simple blood test will determine the amount of carbon monoxide in the bloodstream.

Call the Orange Fire Marshal's Office at 891-1050 or visit the website at www.orangefiremarshal.com for more information