Steamboat firefighters respond to spike in deadly gas leaks Wednesday, urge public to prevent danger in homes
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The winter months come with an increased risk for carbon monoxide poisoning in homes, and Routt County fire departments are urging residents to check gas alarms, heating and ventilation systems.
On Wednesday, Steamboat Springs Fire Rescue firefighters responded to three instances of carbon monoxide alarms detecting unsafe levels in people’s homes. The colorless, odorless and tasteless gas is known as the “silent killer,” causing more than 50,000 emergency department visits and more than 400 deaths each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
From 2010 to 2017, the most recent year data is available, 379 people in Colorado died from carbon monoxide poisoning, according to the state Department of Public Health & Environment.
“That’s why we take it so seriously,” said Tony DeRisio with Steamboat Fire Rescue, who responded to some of the calls for service Wednesday.
Local firefighters respond to every carbon monoxide detector that goes off and do an evaluation of the home, DeRisio said. Sometimes, the devices give faulty readings and firefighters are able to ensure residents are not in danger.
All three of Wednesday’s calls showed legitimate, unsafe levels of the gas in people’s homes, according to DeRisio. In that case, firefighters immediately contact utility companies to fix the problem.
Carbon monoxide is found in fumes produced by automobiles, portable generators, stoves, lanterns and gas ranges, or by burning charcoal and wood, according to the CDC. That is why winter months, when people are using these devices to generate heat in their homes, tend to see a spike in toxic buildups of the gas.
According to the CDC, symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are flu-like. They often include headache, sleepiness, weakness, vomiting, dizziness and tightness in the chest. Prolonged exposure can cause more severe side effects or death.
- Keep gas appliances properly adjusted.
- Consider purchasing a vented space heater when replacing an unvented one.
- Use proper fuel in kerosene space heaters.
- Install and use an exhaust fan vented to outdoors over gas stoves.
- Open flues when fireplaces are in use.
- Choose properly sized wood stoves that are certified to meet EPA emission standards. Make certain that doors on all wood stoves fit tightly.
- Have a trained professional inspect, clean and tune-up central heating system (furnaces, flues and chimneys) annually.
- Repair any leaks promptly.
- Do not idle the car inside garage.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says the first step to preventing carbon monoxide buildup is ensuring combustion equipment like boilers, furnaces, water heaters and certain appliances are properly maintained.
DeRisio recommends residents install a carbon monoxide alarm on every level of their homes and to make sure they work properly. Those who are visiting the area and staying in condos or vacation rentals also should check to make sure alarms have been installed.
Chief Mike Swinsick with the North Routt Fire Protection District recommends people check their ventilation system throughout the winter and keep vents clear of debris and snow.
“Typically with new heating systems and everything, they have those vents coming out of the foundation of the house. They can get iced up and not work properly,” Swinsick said.
He attributes many instances of carbon monoxide buildup in the winter to blocked or partially blocked ventilation systems.
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