Carbon monoxide poisoning and deaths can happen to anyone, anywhere. The Consumer Product Safety Commission suggests having functioning carbon monoxide detectors on every floor of your home in order to best protect your family against this “silent killer.” A functioning carbon monoxide detector recently protected the Burnley family; shown are Col. Todd Burnley and his daughter, Caroline. (Photo by Staci-Jill Burnley, ASC Public Affairs)
1 / 3 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Carbon monoxide poisoning and deaths can happen to anyone, anywhere. The Consumer Product Safety Commission suggests having functioning carbon monoxide detectors on every floor of your home in order to best protect your family against this “silent killer.” A functioning carbon monoxide detector recently protected the Burnley family; shown are Col. Todd Burnley and his daughter, Caroline. (Photo by Staci-Jill Burnley, ASC Public Affairs) (Photo Credit: Staci-Jill Burnley) VIEW ORIGINAL
Some of the most common sources of carbon monoxide are in-home heating systems. The Consumer Product Safety Commission advises that all homeowners have their heating sources inspected annually to make sure they are functioning safely. (Photo by Staci-Jill Burnley, ASC Public Affairs)
2 / 3 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Some of the most common sources of carbon monoxide are in-home heating systems. The Consumer Product Safety Commission advises that all homeowners have their heating sources inspected annually to make sure they are functioning safely. (Photo by Staci-Jill Burnley, ASC Public Affairs) (Photo Credit: Staci-Jill Burnley) VIEW ORIGINAL
The Consumer Product Safety Commission encourages the use of carbon monoxide detectors on all floors of your home in order to alert your family to the first signs of the deadly gas. Portable, plug-in detectors with battery back-up are a sound investment for military families on the move when it comes to safety and prevention. (Photo by Staci-Jill Burnley, ASC Public Affairs)
3 / 3 Show Caption + Hide Caption – The Consumer Product Safety Commission encourages the use of carbon monoxide detectors on all floors of your home in order to alert your family to the first signs of the deadly gas. Portable, plug-in detectors with battery back-up are a sound investment for military families on the move when it comes to safety and prevention. (Photo by Staci-Jill Burnley, ASC Public Affairs) (Photo Credit: Staci-Jill Burnley) VIEW ORIGINAL

November is Carbon Monoxide Awareness Month, and this is your public service message about the importance of functioning carbon monoxide detectors in your home. It also comes from a family who was saved by them.

On April 20 at 12:45 a.m., the carbon monoxide detector in our basement went off.

For those who may not know, carbon monoxide (or CO, as it also referred) is a deadly, colorless, odorless, poisonous gas. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, it is produced by the incomplete burning of various fuels, including coal, wood, charcoal, oil, kerosene, propane, and natural gas. Products and equipment powered by internal combustion engines – such as portable generators, cars, boats, lawn mowers, and power washers – also produce CO.

We have detectors on all levels of the house. The alarm that went off is in a room with the furnaces and water heater, and behind a closed door. The basement also has a separate door, which was closed. Only the basement one went off, and it was only my super-human, parent ears that heard it. Since having children, I am a much lighter sleeper, and even when asleep I abruptly wake to any tiny noise, expecting the the wails of “Mommy!” to soon follow.

I woke up my husband and, as the detector beeped incessantly and robotically repeated “carbon monoxide, carbon monoxide,” we flew around the house, opening doors and windows to get fresh air circulating. We turned off the heat sources and aired the house out. The alarm stopped beeping.

Looking back, we should have called the fire department, and should it ever happen again, we will. The CPSC advises calling 911, and not reentering the premises until the emergency services responders have given you permission. That is a lesson learned for our family from this experience.

No one was feeling ill, and we went through the checklist on the CPSC website outlining symptoms of CO exposure. The CPSC says, because CO is odorless, colorless, and otherwise undetectable to the human senses, people may not know that they are being exposed. The initial symptoms of low to moderate CO poisoning are similar to the flu (but without the fever). They include: headache, fatigue, shortness of breath, nausea and dizziness.

After we completed the checklist, and having an hour’s worth of fresh air exposure, the girls went back to sleep and I told my husband there was no way I was going to be able to go back to sleep. It was a little chilly, but we were okay. I clock-watched until I could get our heating and air tech on the phone to schedule an emergency visit. At 7 a.m. on the dot, I called for him to come check out the issue.

He first checked the detector, which was in perfect working order with fresh batteries (my husband is vigilant about changing the batteries in safety equipment every 6 months). Then he checked the water heater, which was fine.

Finally, he moved to the furnaces to check how they were operating.

Long story short, both the upstairs and downstairs furnaces (both located in the same basement utility room) registered off the charts with CO levels.

It pegged his meter within 10 seconds of the furnaces being turned on. I will be the first one to tell you, I am not a math/science person, and when he started rattling off numbers and phrases like “parts per million,” I was a bit lost and not grasping the situation.

He explained that his meter registered up to 1,200 ppm. While CO levels above 70 ppm will have noticeable symptoms of headache, fatigue and nausea like we checked for, at sustained CO concentrations above 150 to 200 ppm, disorientation, unconsciousness, and death are possible.

Ours were at 1,200 within 10 seconds.

Simply put, our HVAC pro said that, without that functioning detector, the levels we had in our home would most likely have killed us in our sleep and we would have never known what was happening.

Without that functioning detector, our little girls would have never lived to see their 6th and 4th birthdays.

Without that functioning detector, I wouldn’t be writing this and sharing our experience in hopes that it will encourage you to ensure your family wakes up tomorrow, and you don’t fall victim to what is referred to often as “The Silent Killer.”

We so often take for granted the little things and items in our home that keep us safe. “We’ll buy them next week,” we tell ourselves. “We’ll replace the batteries next month,” we say. “We don’t have the money to spend on that right now,” we think.

You cannot put off or put a price on the safety of your family.

The CPSC reports, on average, about 170 people in the United States die every year from CO produced by non-automotive consumer products. These products include malfunctioning fuel-burning appliances such as furnaces, ranges, water heaters and room heaters; engine-powered equipment such as portable generators; fireplaces; and charcoal that is burned in homes and other enclosed areas.

Others die from CO produced by non-consumer products, such as cars left running in attached garages. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that several thousand people go to hospital emergency rooms every year to be treated for CO poisoning.

I’m lucky I’m married to someone who is safety-centric, and that approach has rubbed off on me over the course of our marriage. Yes, we are lucky, but we also take the time and effort to make sure we are doing all we can to protect ourselves and our daughters. They are always first in our thoughts and actions, and that benefits us all at the end of the day.

Take the time right now to check the expiration on your safety equipment in your home. Replace what needs replacing and make sure you have a schedule written down of when you did it last to refer to each time.

We did, and that’s the only reason you’re reading this right now.

For more information about CO awareness and safety, please visit:

https://www.cpsc.gov/safety-education/safety-guides/carbon-monoxide/carbon-monoxide-fact-sheet