By Eric Pilgrim | Fort Knox NewsNovember 15, 2019
As Fort Knox residents recover from a recent cold snap that brought in sub-freezing temperatures, the Fort Knox Fire Department is asking them to stay on top of general maintenance issues.
Firefighters are called to the scene of carbon monoxide alarms on average 20 times a year and natural gas leaks about 40 times a year, all due to preventable emergencies.
"Usually, the first thing we do when we go on an alarm to a house is we check the furnace filter," said Jay Schiedewitz, fire chief, Fort Knox Directorate of Emergency Services. "About 75% of the time it's just blocked solid."
Schiedewitz said they discovered an extreme case of a blocked filter on a recent call.
"There was so much junk on the return vent you couldn't even see through it," he said.
While the gas leaks and carbon monoxide thus far have not resulted in any injuries or harm to residents, Schiedewitz is urging residents to still take alarms seriously.
"Every one of these alarms that has gone off is contributed to a maintenance issue; not maintaining the furnace system, or damage to the hot water heater ventilation," said Schiedewitz.
As a result of these calls, Schiedewitz and his fire crews are attempting to get the word out for residents to take time to service their homes before they get to into that state.
Schiedewitz said gas leaks sometimes occur because a resident has used the hot water heater closet for storage. In fact, firefighters find improper storage in the mechanical closet about 60-70% of the time. He explained that the resident ends up bumping a sensor or regulator as a result.
"It's either somebody hitting the switch accidentally on the stove or one of the fittings around the stove or hot water heater," said Schiedewitz. "The key to that is evacuation then notification."
Schiedewitz said a lot of people will remain in the house, even after calling in the emergency.
"A lot of people will sit in their house and call, we'll show up on scene, and they'll say, 'Yeah, it's not that bad,'" said Schiedewitz.
The other problem comes with the alarms. What many people may not realize, according to Schiedewitz, is that there are two different sounding alarms, depending on the emergency.
"The fire alarms and [carbon monoxide] alarm have two different, distinct sounds," said Schiedewitz. "The fire alarms will drive you out of the house pretty quick because it's a solid sound. The carbon monoxide alarm is just a consistent beeping -- like three beeps, and then three more beeps, and it keeps doing that.
"A lot of people misinterpret that as just trouble with a smoke detector."
Schiedewitz recommends that residents take time to follow the following suggestions:
• Inspect the furnace filter every month and change it out every 90 days or sooner, if needed
• Make sure the furnace has received its annual inspection and maintenance from Knox Hills
• Do not store items around the furnace or hot water heater and do not block the return air vent
• Check carbon monoxide and smoke detectors regularly to be sure they are functioning properly
• Change detector batteries every six months
• Never use a generator inside the home or garage, even if the doors and windows are open
• Do not warm up a vehicle in a garage
Lastly, call 911 if there is an emergency, he said.
"The goal for us is to be out of a job," Schiedewitz said. "The less we do, the more we know they're taking the right actions."