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Fire officials warn of carbon monoxide dangers

Published: Tuesday, Dec. 31, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

DeKalb County officials are warning residents about the importance of carbon monoxide detectors after two members of a Sycamore family passed out from carbon monoxide exposure before help arrived.

Four family members in the 1700 block of Brower Place, Sycamore, were taken to Kishwaukee Hospital for treatment of exposure to high carbon monoxide levels this month, said Art Zern, assistant fire chief for the Sycamore Fire Department.

The family’s furnace was not draining the exhaust properly, causing the exhaust to go back into the house. The family did not have a carbon monoxide detector, Zern said.

“Luckily one member of the family woke up in the middle of the night very ill and passed out. He was up long enough to awaken other members of the family,” Zern said. “Two members passed out prior to our arrival.”

Carbon monoxide, which is a colorless and odorless gas, is particularly a problem during the winter because furnaces are working nonstop, Zern said. Residents who feel ill should leave the house and call 911 if their carbon monoxide detector activates.

“We had half a dozen calls recently with legitimate carbon monoxide issues,” Zern said. “We were there early enough, because they had detectors.”

DeKalb Fire Chief Eric Hicks said his department hasn’t had any major issues so far this year, but he still cautions residents to be mindful.

“Make sure your vehicle isn’t running inside the garage,” Hicks said. “A large amount of calls we get are when it’s super cold out and people start [and run] their car, which will set the alarm off.”

Both fire departments use equipment to find the source of carbon monoxide in the house.

Illinois state law requires residents using fossil fuels, such as natural gas or propane, to install carbon monoxide detectors within 15 feet of all rooms used for sleeping.

According to a Sycamore Fire Department news release, the symptoms of carbon monoxide exposure include headache, fatigue, shortness of breath, nausea and dizziness. High levels of carbon monoxide poisoning can lead to mental confusion, vomiting, loss of muscular coordination, loss of consciousness and death, the news release states.

Symptoms of carbon monoxide can be similar to the common cold or flu. Zern said people can tell the difference because carbon monoxide exposure usually will affect people all at the same time rather than within days of each other, he said.

“The key is to have detection to alert you to the problem,” Zern said.

Zern also said newer high-efficiency furnaces are particularly prone to causing problems because their exhaust is cooler and condenses in cold air faster. Ice can build up in these newer furnaces, so residents should check it periodically, Zern said.

Symptoms and safety measures:

• The symptoms of carbon monoxide exposure include headache, fatigue, shortness of breath, nausea and dizziness.

• Never heat a home with a gas range or oven.

• Never burn charcoal inside a home or garage.

• Always open the chimney flue when using a fireplace.

• Never run a combustion engine, such as a car, lawn mower or snow blower, in an enclosed area.

• Have furnaces and water heaters serviced regularly.

Source: Sycamore Fire Department

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