Firefighter warns of carbon monoxide danger

By Kitsey Burns Harrison -

It’s a story which could have had a very different, and tragic ending, said local firefighter Shane Gillenwater, but thanks to quick action from a local fire department a family at risk of carbon monoxide poisoning was saved. Gillenwater is a captain with the Yadkinville Fire Department and he said the danger of carbon monoxide is something the public should take very seriously.

The department recently responded to a home in regard to a malfunctioning smoke alarm. While there they discovered the family did not have a carbon monoxide detector, so they installed one.

A few days later, they were called back to the same residence because the carbon monoxide detector was going off. In light of their recent problem with the smoke alarm, it was a natural assumption the carbon monoxide detector also was malfunctioning. That was not the case, however.

Gillenwater said the department used equipment to determine the house was, in fact, registering carbon monoxide. It was later determined a crack in the heating system was causing the problem.

“The alarm worked perfectly,” Gillenwater said. “If the alarm had not been installed and if they had not contacted us, it would have been a very different story.”

While fire safety has long been promoted, Gillenwater said the public is not quite as well-versed on how dangerous carbon monoxide is.

“Even at low concentrations, 10 to 15 parts per million, it harms your red blood cells and it builds up in your body over time,” he said. “Even at low concentrations it does start to affect people.”

With continued exposure, carbon monoxide can lead to death.

“It is odorless, colorless and the bad part about it is, over night when people are asleep, they can have an event [of carbon monoxide poisoning], it could be tragic,” Gillenwater said.

Any oil-based heating systems such as furnaces, gas logs or gas stoves put a home at risk for carbon monoxide exposure.

“Education and awareness is the biggest issue,” Gillenwater said. “In the rural communities they’ve had oil furnaces and boilers and stoves in their homes for so many years, they think ‘I’ve never had a problem why do I need to worry about it now.’”

But with homes, especially manufactured homes being built tighter with less air flow, and the increasing use of products like gas logs, Gillenwater said it is essential to educate the public on the need to have carbon monoxide detectors in their homes.

“Carbon monoxide is something a lot of folks are not educated on, they’re just not aware of it,” he said. “And these alarms are important, very.”

For those who may not be able to afford a carbon monoxide detector, the Yadkinville Fire Department, as well as others in the county, have some available by way of a grant they can install for those in need.

For more information on carbon monoxide detectors, contact a local fire department.

Kitsey Burns Harrison may be reached at 336-679-2341 or on Twitter @RippleReporterK.

By Kitsey Burns Harrison

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