Oneonta Fire Department crews responded to two calls in a single morning this week about about carbon monoxide, including one where three residents were asleep in a hazardous situation, the chief said.
The second call involved a CO alarm that needed batteries replaced, Chief Patrick Pidgeon said. The number of CO alarm incidents has more than than doubled since 2010, the year he became chief, he said.
In a report to the Common Council on Tuesday, Pidgeon said CO calls are on the rise in part because some detectors are passing their expected useful lifespan. In other cases, residents are “new” consumers and are figuring out how the devices work, he said.
Carbon monoxide, often called the silent killer, is an invisible, odorless, colorless gas created when fuels, such as gasoline, coal, natural gas, propane, oil, and methane, burn incompletely. In a home, heating and cooking appliances that burn fuel are potential sources of carbon monoxide.
Under the state’s Amanda’s Law, which went into effect in 2010, CO alarms must be installed in new and existing one and two-family homes, multi-family dwellings and rental units with fuel-burning appliances, systems or an attached garage.
The law was named for Amanda Hansen, a Buffalo teenager who died of CO poisoning from a defective boiler when sleeping over at a friend’s house in January 2009.
Alarms cost about $20 to $50, depending on features, the Amanda’s Law website said.
Carbon monoxide incidents nationally cause more than 400 deaths, 20,000 emergency room visits and 4,000 hospitalizations each year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Fatalities are highest among individuals 65 and older, the center said, and people who are asleep can die from CO poisoning before experiencing symptoms.
Earlier this month, a Garrattsville couple, ages 67 and 68, escaped a fatal encounter with carbon monoxide because of a clogged exhaust on the propane boiler that heats their house. Their CO detector was defective, and after they and their pets experienced symptoms, the couple called 911 and was treated in Syracuse hospital for poisoning.
Most CO alarms are backed by a five- to seven-year warranty, according to Consumer Reports website. The devices typically emit a chirp or signal when nearing the end of their useful life, and this signal differs from the one that indicates a low battery.
Non-fire carbon monoxide incidents nationally increased from 40,900 in 2003 to 80,100 in 2010, according to the National Fire Protection Association. Incidents are more common between November and February, the NFPA said, and 94 percent of occurrences are in residences, with 73 percent in one- or two-family homes.
Pidgeon said crews went to a High Street home Jan. 21 after neighbors reported a strange odor to the city code enforcement office and fire department, Pidgeon said.
Crews woke three residents but they didn’t need treatment, Pidgeon said, though crews identified high CO levels from a furnace malfunction.
As crews were leaving, they received another CO-related call, Pidgeon said. An Elm Street resident had been alerted by a CO detector, and crews determined through air tests that there was no hazard and that the batteries needed to be changed, he said.
Last year, the Oneonta crews responded to 125 hazardous condition calls, a number that has been consistent in the past three years, Pidgeon said in his annual report. Most of the calls were related to CO alarm incidents, he said.
With the state’s Amanda’s Law, no need exists for a local law, said Robert Chiappisi, Oneonta code enforcement officer, said. The code office monitors compliance with the law by rental properties.
Rental property owners annually must submit a form that certifies that required smoke/heat detectors are in place and functioning, Chiappisi said, and that form also reports on CO detectors and fire extinguishers.
CO detectors aren’t required in homes that have no potential source of carbon monoxide, such as residences with electric baseboard heat, an electric water heater and an electric stove and no attached garage, he said.
The Oneonta Fire Department receives telephone calls about CO detectors and answers questions, such as where they should be placed, officials said, but crews don’t typically make house calls to check if detectors are functioning.
Crews carry a limited number of batteries on a fire truck, and when responding to CO alarms and the cause is determined to be low batteries, firefighters may provide batteries depending on supply and a resident’s need, officials said.Safety tips A small amount of carbon monoxide can poison a person over a small amount time or a large amount of CO in a shorter time, according to the the National Fire Protection Association. The NFPA offered the following safety tips. • Test CO alarms at least once a month and replace them according to the manufacturer's instructions. • If the audible trouble signal sounds, check for low batteries. If the battery is low, replace it. If it still sounds, call the fire department. • If the CO alarm sounds, immediately move to a fresh air location outdoors or by an open window or door. Call for help. • To warm a vehicle, remove it from the garage immediately after starting it. Do not run a vehicle or other fueled engine or motor indoors, even if garage doors are open. Make sure the exhaust pipe of a running vehicle is not covered with snow. • During and after a snowstorm, make sure vents for the dryer, furnace, stove and fireplace are clear of snow build-up. • A generator should be used in a well-ventilated location outdoors, away from windows, doors and vent openings. • Gas or charcoal grills can produce CO and should be used outside.