Carbon Monoxide Detectors Still Not Ready for Prime-Time?

Findings indicate detection problems during low humidity winter months, when they're most needed


In 1994, after Chicago became the first major city to pass such an ordinance, the city fire department was swamped with more than 10,000 carbon monoxide calls in three months -- almost all of them false alarms. The city had to advise residents not to call 911 every time the "hypersensitive" alarms went off, said Kevin Smith, a spokesman for the Office of Emergency Management and Communications.

Although alarm technology has improved since then, local emergency responders are still dealing with "quite a few false calls on CO detectors," said Ralph Tartaglia, assistant chief of operations for the Roanoke Fire-EMS Department.

Of the 18 times rescue officials were called to Roanoke homes for carbon monoxide alarms between Jan. 1, 2005, and Aug. 6, 2006, the gas was found inside the home seven times.

In Roanoke County, there was just one confirmed case of carbon monoxide exposure -- from batteries that a man was charging in his basement -- out of 38 calls during the same time period.

Officials in Roanoke and Roanoke County said they were not aware of any cases in which someone was poisoned by carbon monoxide that went undetected by an alarm in their home.

Responding to false alarms has not kept local fire departments from encouraging citizens to install carbon monoxide detectors.

"Nothing's foolproof," Tartaglia said. "They're very good pieces of equipment; they're gone off and saved some people. ... I'd rather go on a false call than a real one. That way, nobody's dying."

At Roanoke College, the alarms have already provided some peace of mind to students such as Trover Wilson, a resident adviser who is living in room 511 of Sections -- the room that Vierling died in.

"I'm not really concerned," Wilson said.

With all the new alarms and the school's emphasis on safety, he said, "I think my room is probably the safest one on campus."

Preventing carbon monoxide poisoning

Have your heating system, water heater and any other gas-, oil-, or coal-burning appliances serviced by a qualified technician every year.

Install a battery-operated carbon monoxide detector in your home and check or replace the battery when you change the time on your clocks each spring and fall. If the detector sounds, leave your home immediately and call 911.

Seek prompt medical attention if you suspect carbon monoxide poisoning and are feeling dizzy, light-headed or nauseated.

Don't use a generator, charcoal grill, camp stove or other gasoline or charcoal-burning device inside your home, basement or garage. When using a device outside, keep it away from windows.

Don't run a car or truck inside a garage attached to your house, even if you leave the door open.

Don't burn anything in a stove or fireplace that isn't vented.

Don't heat your house with a gas oven.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ROANOKE, VIRGINIA $1.50SUNDAY AUGUST 27, 2006



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