Carbon Monoxide Response – Quick Tips

We are all handling more CO alarms than ever. In fact when many of us started in the fire service there was no such thing as a Carbon Monoxide alarm at all.

I have a concern that many of the alarms we are answering are false, and / or malfunctions. This can lead us to a false sense of security on our parts, so I felt a review of CO would be a good one.

Carbon monoxide is colorless, odorless, tasteless, toxic, and flammable gas, generated by incomplete combustion.

Carbon monoxide inhibits the ability of the blood to deliver oxygen throughout the body.

Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include headache, nausea, drowsiness, vomiting, cherry red skin color, coma, and death.

Monitors and detectors used by the fire service should be calibrated per manufacturer’s instructions but every six months would be an absolute minimum.

Meters and monitors should be tested on a weekly basis as a minimum and test should be documented.

Actions upon arrival should include but not be limited to:

Evaluate occupants for CO Poisoning.

Determine if any combustion devices have been in use.

If the unit (home detector) was purchased prior to 10 years ago then suggest a replacement.

Determine if a smoke detector is or was sounding as well.

Personnel shall wear full PPE and have SCBA at the ready for donning.

Document all the readings you receive in the structure, and near the various sources.

Check all of the following: Car in garage, chimney obstructions, furnace area, BBQ grill to close to residence and open windows, gas, wood, and coal fireplaces, kerosene heaters,gas ranges, stoves, ovens, gas refrigerator, portable heaters, gas dryer, gas hot water heater, non vented heater, and others.

Remember to treat these as serious calls, don’t become complacent. Create and use a form for documentation for you and the resident if necessary. If it isn’t written down, it didn’t happen!

This is not a complete SOP and it is not supposed to be, but just an overview and some thoughts. Give serious trout about creating someway to record readings so if the event happens again you have a baseline.

Stay safe, and stay thinking!

Pete Lamb
Copyright 2013