Fire officials stress carbon monoxide dangers

URBANA — During an ice storm several years ago, the Urbana Fire Department was called to a home in which a family had been using a hibachi to help heat the building.

The grill had produced so much carbon monoxide that a 7-year-old girl had passed out. A family member was able to crawl out of the building to alert a neighbor, who called 911.

When the firefighters arrived at the home, Urbana Fire Chief Mike Dilley picked up the little girl, carried her out of the building and performed CPR on her, helping her to recover.

According to Dilley, if the family had been using a working carbon monoxide detector, the lives of the little girl and other family members might not have been in danger.

Dilley said his experience is one example of the importance keeping working carbon monoxide alarms in a home.

Carbon monoxide is an invisible, odorless gas produced when fossil fuels burn, according to Champaign Fire Department spokeswoman Dena Schumacher.

"Often we find it produced by a furnace, a hot water heater, a gas oven or a fireplace," Schumacher said. "Occasionally during the winter, a person will try to heat up a car in a garage and be affected by carbon monoxide."

Schumacher said the Champaign Fire Department responded to 194 carbon monoxide calls in 2011, with 63 of them turning out to have carbon monoxide at a dangerous level.

"The reason carbon monoxide is so dangerous is because it is colorless, odorless and tasteless," Schumacher said. "It's a health issue, and people exposed to high concentrations of carbon monoxide can die."

Schumacher said fire department personnel become concerned whenever they detect 30 or more parts per million of carbon monoxide.

Last year, Champaign firefighters responded to one building with a reading of 1,093 parts per million and another building with 1,086 parts per million.

"People can die quickly with one dose of that," Schumacher said.

The Urbana Fire Department has responded to 88 carbon monoxide calls since Jan. 1. Dilley said 54 of the calls turned out to be actual carbon monoxide problems, with the other 34 being faulty detectors.

In 2007, the Illinois Carbon Monoxide Alarm Law went into effect in Illinois.

The law requires every home have at least one carbon monoxide alarm on each floor of a home that burns fossil fuels or a home with an attached garage.

Since manufacturers suggest replacing carbon monoxide alarms every five years, people who put those detectors in when the law first took effect need to replace their devices this year, Dilley said.

In an effort to emphasize the importance of working carbon monoxide alarms, members of the Urbana and Champaign fire departments illustrated potential carbon monoxide hazards at a home in Urbana on Wednesday.

They went room-by-room to highlight the potential carbon monoxide dangers in the home.

Representatives from the Office of the State Fire Marshal were also on hand to answer questions, and a manufacturer of carbon monoxide alarms, First Alert, donated some alarms that will be given to families that need them.

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