Gwinnett Fire Department offers tips to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning

LAWRENCEVILLE - Recent deaths in other areas of the country are prompting the Gwinnett County Fire Department to spread the word to Gwinnettians about the threat carbon monoxide poses.

Department spokesperson Capt. Thomas Rutledge said this "silent killer" is always present, but even more deadly in winter months when the mercury drops and people began using different home heating sources to stay warm.

"Carbon monoxide has been labeled 'the silent killer' for many years and is one that most people don't know about," Rutledge said.

Rutledge said the gas is colorless, odorless and tasteless - virtually undetectable by senses alone - but highly toxic. Because it can't be sensed, Rutledge said victims may become disoriented and unable to call for help or help themselves.

Wherever a fuel is being burned, there will be carbon monoxide. When a fireplace, furnace or wood stove is improperly installed or poorly maintained, Rutledge said, it can become a recipe for disaster.

According to the national Fire Safety Council, nearly 2,000 people die and another 40,000 are poisoned each year in America.

Rutledge offered a few potential life-saving tips:

Have all fuel-burning appliances installed by a qualified professional and follow the manufacturer's instructions.

Have all home heating sources inspected and maintained annually.

Never install or operate gas-burning appliances in an enclosure without a vent.

Never use a gas range or stove to heat the home.

Never use fuel-burning appliances such as heaters or lanterns in enclosed areas such as tents or RVs.

Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are many. They can mimic those of a cold or the flu, minus aching and fever. They include dizziness and ringing in the ears; blurred vision; throbbing headache; nausea and vomiting; confusion, disorientation or loss of muscle control; fatigue and shortness of breath.

In addition to smoke detectors, Rutledge recommends installing carbon monoxide detectors on every level of the home, especially near sleeping areas. They should be tested and maintained according to the manufacturer's instructions.

If a leak is suspected, Rutledge said you should call 911 immediately. If the alarm is making a steady alarm sound, he said you should leave the house immediately, even in the absence of symptoms.

"Leave heating appliances on and close up the house to allow firefighters to obtain accurate (carbon monoxide) readings to isolate the problem," he said.