FORT RUCKER, Ala. (November 29, 2012) -- The holidays are a time for gift giving and Family, but Directorate of Public Safety officials warn that an invisible danger lurks as the weather turns cooler.

Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless and toxic gas, and because it's impossible to see, taste or smell carbon monoxide, it can kill before people are even aware of its presence, according to the environmental protection agency website

"Carbon monoxide can be deadly," said David Ammons, assistant fire chief for the Fort Rucker Fire Department, adding that CO is produced whenever fuels such as gas, oil, kerosene, wood or charcoal are burned.

The first line of defense people can have against this deadly gas is knowledge, according to Lt. Col. Madeline T. Bondy, DPS director and provost marshal.

"People should be smart about how they use appliances," she said. "They need to make sure they are knowledgeable of an appliance before they use it. Read and follow all of the instructions that accompany any [fuel-burning device] and ask questions. If you don't know something, find out by asking."

Dangerous levels of CO can result from malfunctioning appliances or those that are improperly used. Hundreds of people die every year from accidental carbon monoxide poisoning caused by malfunctioning or misused fuel-burning appliances, and even more die from CO produced by idling cars, according to the EPA.

"When using space heaters in enclosed areas, people have to be very cautious about the carbon monoxide emissions," said Bondy. "Make sure everything is connected properly and people should make sure they allow for proper ventilation.

"This happens a lot in the winter time when people are trying to keep warm while working in a garage," she said. "A lot of times, people will close windows and doors and allow no way for proper air flow when using these fuel-burning devices -- they forget to properly ventilate their workspace."

Because of risks from carbon monoxide and fire, space heaters are not allowed to be used in commercial and office buildings on Fort Rucker, according to Ammons. Space heaters are allowed in military housing units, but residents are urged to follow the safety guidelines provided by the manufacturer.

Ammons advises people to have trained professionals inspect their fuel-burning appliances, such as: oil and gas furnaces, gas ranges and ovens, gas dryers, gas or kerosene space heaters, fireplaces and wood stoves to ensure they are working properly. They should also make sure that flues and chimneys are connected, in good condition and not blocked.

Ammons said there are some things people should never do, such as: idle the car in a garage; use a gas oven to heat a home; use charcoal grills indoors; sleep in any room with an unvented gas or kerosene space heater; or use gasoline-powered engines in enclosed spaces.

Preparation is another key, and Ammons said that people should install carbon monoxide detectors in their homes if not already installed.

"The first thing that we usually advise people to do, [if CO detectors are installed], is change their carbon monoxide detector's batteries every time the time changes," he said, to make sure that the detectors are in proper working order.

People should also have awareness about symptoms of possible carbon monoxide poisoning, so that they are able to detect the danger before it's too late, said Ammons.

According to the EPA, if people are experiencing severe headaches, becoming dizzy, mentally confused, nauseated or faint -- they may be experiencing moderate levels of carbon monoxide poisoning.

"A lot of times people will mistake [the symptoms] for the flu," said the assistant fire chief. "If people are exposed to moderate levels of carbon monoxide over a long period of time, they can die."

If people are experiencing any symptoms of CO poisoning, they should immediately get fresh air, said Ammons. Possible victims should ventilate and leave the house, and go to an emergency room and talk to a physician, letting the physician know they suspect carbon monoxide poisoning.