Canton firefighters show Local 4 Defenders how fast CO levels can rise

According to the Consumer Product and Safety Commission, about 170 Americans die each year from carbon monoxide poisoning.

The Canton Fire Department showed Local 4 how quickly carbon monoxide levels can rise and how a home carbon monoxide detector can go off.

The department turned on a generator in an enclosed area and had two different carbon monoxide detectors: one consumers can buy at a store and one firefighters use on the job.  Firefighter Jake Laird was properly suited up with breathing equipment for the test, and monitors were also set up in the area outside as a precaution.

"All our detectors, our main detectors that we use are at 35 parts per million, and that alarm (is) to let us know there is a situation that we can keep an eye on," Battalion Chief Steve Apostal said. "That way if we need to, we can back out of a residence and put proper equipment on and breathing equipment, and that way we can better assess the situation and keep our crews safe."

The carbon monoxide detector firefighters use went off just 20 seconds after the generator was turned on.

"I was surprised by the findings that our CO readings climbed as fast as it did and our alarm went off in 20 seconds," Apostal said.

According to the user manual, the home carbon monoxide detector used will sound its alarm within 10 to 50 minutes if carbon monoxide levels rise above 150 parts per million.  If levels reach 400 parts per million or higher, it will go off between four and 15 minutes.

During WDIV's unscientific test, the home detector reading never went over 375.  Its alarm began sounding 11 minutes and 30 seconds after the generator was turned on.

Apostal said everyone should have at least one carbon monoxide detector in their home.  It should be placed outside the sleeping quarters.  It's recommended that there be a CO detector on each level of the home.

It is now Michigan law that all newly built homes have at least one CO detector.

"Carbon monoxide is an odorless, tasteless gas that you cannot detect.  Certainly if you had a motor running or your car running you may detect that odor of exhaust, but if something were to go wrong with your furnace equipment, your water heater, your exhaust equipment like the flue outside, that could cause a carbon monoxide leak inside your residence that you would not be able to detect with your nose," Apostal said.

Carbon monoxide poisoning can happen with a small amount of CO over a longer period of time or by a large amount over a shorter period of time, according to the National Fire Protection Agency.

Josh Meier, Canton's fire chief, said they get about 100 to 150 calls a year related to carbon monoxide.

The fire department also recommends vents for the dryer, furnace, stove and fireplace are always clear of debris, including after a snowstorm when snow can build up.

CO detectors should be tested once a month and replaced according to manufacture instructions. They usually last about 10 years.

If a carbon monoxide detector's alarm goes off, move to a fresh-air location immediately, make sure everyone in the home is accounted for, and call the fire department.

A generator should be used in a well-ventilated location outside and away from windows, doors and vent openings in a home.

Gas and charcoal grills can also produce carbon monoxide and should only be used outside.

Symptoms of CO poisoning

CO enters the body through breathing. CO poisoning can be confused with flu symptoms, food poisoning and other illnesses. Some symptoms include shortness of breath, nausea, dizziness, light headedness or headaches. High levels of CO can be fatal, causing death within minutes.

The concentration of CO, measured in parts per million (ppm) is a determining factor in the symptoms for an average, healthy adult.

  • 50 ppm: No adverse effects with 8 hours of exposure.
  • 200 ppm: Mild headache after 2-3 hours of exposure.
  • 400 ppm: Headache and nausea after 1-2 hours of exposure.
  • 800 ppm: Headache, nausea, and dizziness after 45 minutes; collapse and unconsciousness after 1 hour of exposure.
  • 1,000 ppm: Loss of consciousness after 1 hour of exposure.
  • 1,600 ppm: Headache, nausea, and dizziness after 20 minutes of exposure.
  • 3,200 ppm: Headache, nausea, and dizziness after 5-10 minutes; collapse and unconsciousness after 30 minutes of exposure.
  • 6,400 ppm: Headache and dizziness after 1-2 minutes; unconsciousness and danger of death after 10-15 minutes of exposure.
  • 12,800 ppm: Immediate physiological effects, unconsciousness and danger of death after 1-3 minutes of exposure.

Information from National Fire Protection Association