As winter weather continues to drop the mercury, more central peninsula residents are relying on wood stoves, fireplaces and other heat-providing sources to warm their dwellings. But with the increased use of these things also comes an increased risk from carbon monoxide.
"It's produced by incomplete combustion, and it's deadly. We call it 'the silent killer' because it can't be see, smelled or tasted, but it's a deadly gas," said Gary Hale, Central Emergency Services Fire Marshal.
Hale said typically CES only responds to one carbon monoxide related call a week during the warm-weather months, but at this time of year the number of calls increases due to the use of numerous home-heating items that can produce the gas.
"Fireplaces, wood stoves, gas- and oil-filled heaters, ranges and dryers all of them can produce it," he said.
However, it is typically when these items aren't functioning properly, or haven't been cleaned or service regularly, that real problems with carbon monoxide can present themselves. Hale said it is crucial that heat-producing appliances are operating properly, wood stoves and fireplaces are serviced regularly, and items such as portable generators are used outside and away from doors, windows and vents to a dwelling.
"Leaving cars running in attached garages is another danger. Huge quantities of carbon monoxide can be trapped and linger for hours, or spread into other areas of the home" he said.
Hale said exposure to the gas can cause flu-like symptoms, such as headaches, fatigue, nausea and dizziness, but it is quite common for these symptoms to wane when the person leaves the gas-laden environment.
"Someone who has a headache in dizzy spells in the home, but then steps outside for a few minutes and has it go away, that's a good indicator there is a problem," he said.
Hale said a better method for ensuring that carbon monoxide levels are not building to lethal proportions is to have a well-maintained carbon monoxide detector.
"As of January 2005 a state law was passed that requires all single and multifamily dwellings to have a carbon monoxide detectors," he said.
However, homeowners and renting tenants are responsible for maintaining these devices.
"A lot are direct plug-in devices, but battery powered detectors should have their batteries changed at least once, but preferably twice, a year," he said.
One central peninsula resident can vouch for the validity of having a carbon monoxide detector in their home. Larry Lewis of Kasilof nearly lost a loved one from a malfunctioning heater, but a detector alerted the family of the danger in time to save a life.
"We had bought a new oil-filled electric heater, one of the radiator types, and plugged it in in my daughter's bedroom," he said.
Little did they know at the time while the device began heating the room, it also began putting out large quantities of carbon monoxide.
"About a half-an-hour later our detector went off, and we didn't even think about the new heater," Lewis said.
Instead he and his family began checking all the other appliances to make sure they were functioning properly and not leaking. Nothing seemed out of order he said, so they began to question if the detector was perhaps malfunctioning.
"We kept resetting it and it kept coming back on with a high reading," he said.
Someone in the home even suggested they just ignore it, but Lewis didn't want to take any chances, so he called CES, and personnel from the new station in Kasilof with hand-held monitoring equipment were dispatched to detect the source of the gas.
"They came out and took readings and said the house was nearly at the evacuation level due to the amount of gas inside," Lewis said.
After moving room to room, CES personal were able to identify Lewis's daughter's bedroom as the source of the problem, which is when Lewis began to suspect the new heating device.
"We went in and unplugged it, and everything started going down. We plugged it back in and everything went up again. If my daughter had slept in that room overnight with the door closed, she probably wouldn't have ever woken up. It was a real scare for us," he said.
Lewis said he brought the device back to the large chain store where he bought it, which subsequently has pulled the item from its shelves. As to his carbon monoxide detector, he said he won't be doubting its worth in the future.
"You don't think about them until you have a need for them, but they are definitely worth having," he said.
Joseph Robertia can be reached at email@example.com.
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