As temps plunge, officials warn of the ‘silent killer’: carbon monoxide

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Firefighters ask people to not bring generators indoors to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning

A carbon monoxide detector, February 17, 2021 (KOIN)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – It’s known as the “silent killer” and as freezing temperatures linger in parts of Portland and Southwest Washington, first responders are reminding people to be aware of the dangers of carbon monoxide. 

Micah Shelton, a public information officer for Clackamas Fire District, said carbon monoxide, a byproduct of burning, is created when heating or combustion devices such as a generator, automobiles and even fireplaces don’t have an adequate supply of oxygen. 

In an enclosed space, the heating device will use the oxygen supply and will then replace that oxygen with carbon dioxide. When the fuel can’t burn properly due to lack of oxygen, the heat source will begin to emit carbon monoxide – and that can be deadly. 

Shelton said the fire department often sees carbon monoxide poisoning incidents when people lose power and the weather is cold. 

“Folks are trying to stay warm, which, you know, everybody wants. And so, they’re running a generator to possibly power maybe an indoor heater, but they’re not putting the generator in the proper spot so it doesn’t have proper ventilation,” he said. 

He said even putting a generator in a garage with the door cracked open a foot is not enough ventilation to filter out the gas. 

In the latest snow event, Shelton said Clackamas Fire District has not received any reports of carbon monoxide-related injuries or death, but that was not the case during the February 2021 snow and ice storm. 

He said people can protect themselves from carbon monoxide by installing carbon monoxide detectors in their homes. He said people often have combined smoke and carbon monoxide detectors on the ceiling, but it’s a good idea to have one lower to the ground in a wall outlet as well. He said carbon monoxide will sink lower than oxygen and work its way higher. A lower detector will recognize it sooner. 

He also recommended people keep their fireplaces clean and have them regularly inspected. 

For the most part, he said RVs and cars should be relatively safe, as long as they’re working properly. However, there are battery-powered carbon monoxide detectors people can use if they are staying in an RV or vehicle. 

Shelton also said people should pay attention to their own symptoms any time they’re using a generator or anything combustible indoors. 

“There’s a lot of signs and symptoms with CO poisoning that are early indicators that something’s not right. Some folks will get headaches and get dizzy. You’ll get red in the cheeks. Those are all indicators that something’s happening with the oxygen in the air and it’s time to shut that unit off,” he said. 

Anyone with a concern they may be experiencing carbon monoxide poisoning should call 911 immediately and open windows and doors to ventilate their homes. Fire departments can respond with testing monitors to determine when an area is safe. 

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