Often times overlooked, the home fire safety alarm system is not complete until you have added carbon monoxide alarms to the plan. In addition to the numbers of carbon monoxide poisonings in the home, there are also many treated for the poison's flu-like symptoms.
Often termed a “silent killer” because you can't see, smell or taste it, carbon monoxide does its work throughout homes in America. The flu-like symptoms usually hit the entire family if a leak is in the home, and it can even lead to a sleepy, uncaring attitude in higher concentrations. The colorless and odorless gas can cause brain damage and even death if left unchecked.
Carbon monoxide is the byproduct of incomplete combustion of fossil fuels, such as the natural gas that you may use to heat your home, dry your clothes, cook your food and warm up your water through the hot water heater. Normally, these gases are vented outside and exhausted properly, but a leak or lack of maintenance may be a recipe for tragedy.
A recent survey of people who have installed carbon monoxide alarms found that 15 percent of them believed that the alarm lasts forever, whereas they typically last for just under 10 years. An additional 18 percent believed that carbon monoxide alarms are only needed for those families that have a gas-fueled furnace, and another 44 percent did not have their heating systems serviced annually.
The good news is that an annual inspection is easy to schedule, and is typically done prior to the heating season in the fall of each year. Additionally, carbon monoxide alarms are readily available, fairly inexpensive and are easy to install in your homes. Some alarms mount on the ceiling of your home, while others plug in to electrical outlets. It doesn't matter which you choose as carbon monoxide weighs about the same as the air in your home. There are alarms that have both smoke and carbon monoxide sensors in them, and they do cost a bit more. If you have purchased one of these units, make sure you explain it to your family so they understand it and are ready to respond.
After the installation, the units should be tested monthly and the batteries should be replaced annually. As with smoke alarms, they should be discarded after about 10 years and replaced with a new unit. Technology changes and the older parts have often reached their expected use and are ready to be retired.
In the fire service, we pride ourselves on being ready to respond on a moment's notice. To give your family the extra time they need to escape from a dangerous situation, install and maintain smoke and carbon monoxide alarms throughout your homes. Make sure you test all alarms in your home on a monthly basis and change batteries annually.
Tom Kiurski is training coordinator for the Livonia Fire Department.