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Prevent Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Provided by Prince William County Fire & Rescue

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As temperatures dip, families are seeking ways to economically heat their homes. As time spent at home increases, so does the use of heating and cooking equipment. Fuels such as gasoline, wood, coal, natural gas, propane, oil and methane are all potential sources of carbon monoxide (CO) that is created when fuels burn incomplete. CO, an odorless and colorless nature, is often referred to as the silent killer and can cause sudden illness and death.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC),each year more than 400 Americans die, more than 20,000 visit the emergency room and over 4,000 are hospitalized from unintentional non-fire-related CO poisoning. The majority of these poisonings are associated with consumer products, including generators states the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). PWL Other products include faulty improperly-used or incorrectly-vented fuel –burning appliances such as furnaces, stoves, water heaters and fireplaces.

How CO Poisoning Occurs

Red blood cells pick up carbon monoxide quicker than they pick up oxygen. If there is a substantial amount of carbon monoxide in the air, the body replaces the oxygen in the blood with carbon monoxide. Oxygen becomes blocked by carbon monoxide preventing it from entering the body; this causes asphyxiation resulting in death.

Symptoms of CO Poisoning

CO poisoning can be difficult to recognize since many of its symptoms mimic other illnesses. The most common symptoms of CO poisoning are headaches, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, chest pain, and confusion. People who are sleeping or intoxicated can die from CO poisoning before ever experiencing symptoms.

Prince William County Department of Fire and Rescue Chief Kevin McGee urges residents to take the following precautions to avoid being a victim of CO poisoning:

Heating System

  • Annually, have your heating system, water heater and any other gas, oil, or coal burning appliances serviced by a qualified technician.
  • When purchasing gas equipment, purchase equipment carrying the seal of a national testing agency.

CO Alarms

  • Test CO alarms at least once a month; replace them according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Call your local fire department’s non-emergency number to find out what number to call if the CO alarm sounds.
  • Choose a CO alarm that has the label of a recognized testing laboratory.
  • Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for placement and mounting height.
  • Install CO alarms in a central location outside each sleeping area and on every level of the home and in other locations where required by applicable laws, codes or standards. For the best protection, interconnect all CO alarms throughout the home. When one sounds, they all sound.
    •  If the audible trouble signal sounds, check for low batteries. If the battery is low, replace it. If it still sounds, call the fire department.
    • If the CO alarm sounds, immediately move to a fresh air location outdoors or by an open window or door. Make sure everyone inside the home is accounted for. Call for help from a fresh air location and stay
    • there until emergency personnel arrive.


  • If you need to warm a vehicle, remove it from the garage immediately after starting it. DO NOT run a vehicle or other fueled engine or motor indoors, even if garage doors are open. Make sure the exhaust pipe of a running vehicle is not covered with snow.


  • During and after a snowstorm, make sure vents for the dryer, furnace, stove, and fireplace are clear of snow build-up.
  • A generator should be used in a well-ventilated location outdoors more than 20 feet away from windows, doors and vent openings.
  • Gas or charcoal grills can produce CO — only use outside.
  • For more information, visit Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

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