Photo by Frank Prager
Dave Whaley, his wife, Jan, and their dog, Thunder, avoided carbon monoxide poisoning when alerted by a CO detector like the one in Jan’s hand.
GODFREY | Dave Whaley did not see or smell anything out of the ordinary. It’s thanks to a small device that Whaley and his family stayed safe.
Whaley, who lives in Godfrey with his wife, Jan, and their dog, Thunder, were alarmed last month when, despite no signs of danger, their carbon monoxide detector alerted them to move to fresh air. They never had experienced a carbon monoxide issue in the home, to the point that Whaley didn’t suspect anything.
“I had it for years and had almost forgotten about it,” he said.
The family left the residence and Whaley called 911. When firefighters arrived, they identified carbon monoxide in the air. Whaley suspected it could be from the gas water heater in his basement.
Ameren came out that same night to do more extensive analysis and identify the source of the problem. They eventually determined it wasn’t an equipment malfunction, but rather a flue design problem that was trapping carbon monoxide emissions in his house. The device that had been mostly out of mind may well have saved the lives of everyone in the house.
Carbon monoxide (CO) is the leading cause of accidental poisoning deaths. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, CO poisoning causes approximately 2,100 deaths in the United States per year.
CO is a colorless, odorless gas. CO poisoning can occur when a fuel-burning appliance or machine, such as a furnace, heater, stove or generator, is not working or vented properly. Symptoms of CO poisoning are headaches, dizziness, tiredness and nausea.
These symptoms easily can be mistaken for flu or common viruses. However, as in Whaley’s case, there often are no symptoms at all. As well as alerting people to danger during the daytime, a CO detector prevents the gas from overcoming and killing people while they sleep.
CO emissions can be created by inefficient or incomplete combustion of fuels such as gas and propane. Physical danger signs of leakage can include yellow or orange flames on your appliances where there should normally be a crisp blue flame. Signs may also include sooty stains around fires and water heaters.
Information on preventing CO poisoning is available from your local fire department. Recommendations include:
• Install at least one CO alarm on each level of your house
• Have a licensed professional inspect heating systems and other fuel-burning appliances in your home annually
• Have fireplaces cleaned and inspected annually and keep chimneys clear of animal nests, leaves and residue
• Do not block exhaust flues and ducts used by water heaters, ranges and clothes dryers
• Do not leave your car running in an attached garage or carport
• Do not use ovens or stoves to heat your home
• Do not use charcoal or gas grills inside or operate outdoors near a window where fumes could seep in
• Test all carbon monoxide detectors in your home monthly
• Replace CO alarms every five years to benefit from the latest technology upgrades
• Do not use generators and grills indoors during a power outage
Anyone can be poisoned by CO, but some individuals may be more vulnerable than others, including children, senior citizens and people with anemia and heart and lung diseases. Anyone suspecting the gas’ presence in their home should immediately call 911.
CO detectors are available at hardware and department stores as well as online. People should install them following the instructions included with the product.
Whaley said after the event at his house, he realized the detector was old and it was time to replace it. He noted that even though its time was up, the inexpensive device did the job it was meant to do.
“It died a hero,” he said.