Carbon monoxide poisoning a concern year-round, higher risks in winter

‘Carbon monoxide alarms save lives,’ says Oak Bay fire captain

Capt. Rob Kivell is the Oak Bay Fire Department fire prevention officer. (Black Press Media file photo)

Carbon monoxide poisoning can happen at any time of year, but officials say risks can be higher in the winter as gas appliances are used more frequently.

Calls about carbon monoxide have gone up in the last 10 years, said Capt. Rob Kivell of the Oak Bay Fire Department. He attributes the increase to changes in the way homes are constructed – as homes become more airtight, there’s less of a chance for unwanted gases to escape.

READ ALSO: Carbon monoxide poisoning incident brings dangers of the gas to light

Improperly ventilated gas, fuel, wood, charcoal or oil-powered appliances such as furnaces, space heaters, water heaters, stoves and dryers can cause a build-up of carbon monoxide in homes, Kivell explained. He noted that even warming up a vehicle in a poorly-ventilated garage can cause a build-up of the gas and result in carbon monoxide poisoning.

According to HealthLinkBC, carbon monoxide poisoning happens when a person inhales the gas and it begins to replace the oxygen in their blood. Early symptoms can include headaches, dizziness and nausea. Once carbon monoxide builds up in the blood, symptoms get worse and can include drowsiness, chest pain, increased heartbeat and breathing, trouble seeing and seizures.

Kivell emphasized that while there’s more potential for carbon monoxide poisoning in the winter, it’s a concern year-round.

Fire prevention authorities recommend having carbon monoxide alarms in every home and on every floor – especially near sleeping areas, he explained, noting that carbon monoxide alarms can be purchased at most hardware stores and fire prevention equipment shops.

The technology has advanced quite a bit, he said, and now, smoke-carbon monoxide combination alarms are available along with alarms powered by lithium batteries that can last for 10-years.

READ ALSO: With carbon monoxide, it doesn’t take a lot to be deadly

He pointed out that carbon monoxide has no taste, colour or smell meaning it’s almost impossible to detect without an alarm.

If a carbon monoxide alarm goes off, Kivell said to leave the building and call 911. If residents are suspicious of a gas leak, they should also leave the premise and call their local fire department right away, he explained.

“Smoke alarms and carbon monoxide alarms save lives,” he said.

Kivell encourages residents to call their local fire department with questions or for help installing an alarm.


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