Rumford Fire Chief Chris Reed holds a carbon monoxide detector, which he says people must have to protect themselves from a gas that is colorless, odorless and deadly.

Carbon monoxide danger levels.

RUMFORD — Maine State Police last Tuesday discovered a Lyman, New Hampshire, couple, along with several cats and dogs, dead due to carbon monoxide poisoning.

A sensor meant to detect the gas was inside their house, but had no batteries.

Rumford Fire Chief Chris Reed said his department has responded this winter to calls concerning carbon monoxide (CO), including one case where a resident needed treatment at the hospital.

“The colder it gets, people have a tendency of burning things maybe they shouldn’t burn — like an oven that’s powered by propane, which produces a high level of CO,” Reed said,

“The other issue we’ve been finding is that the snowbanks are so high against their houses that the direct-vent furnaces , if you don’t clear it, the intake on the other side just brings the CO right back in”

Direct-vent furnaces send fumes and other exhaust outside a pipe in the facade of a building.

Reed said carbon monoxide is both toxic and flammable. Most of the time, the toxicity kills you first. In a structure fire, when there is a lot of smoke, one will see fire in the smoke, which is the carbon monoxide burning.

He said CO detectors are meant to sound an alarm when carbon monoxide levels are at 10 percent of the permissible exposure.

“One of the policies I implemented here was that if we go to a CO (call) and it’s a family, and their CO alarm went off, or if they don’t have one and there’s high CO, we give them one for the night,” Reed said. “That way, when they go to sleep, they have some level of protection.”

He said the batteries for carbon monoxide detectors often seem to be the problem.

“A call we had recently, it was really just luck, because the guy moved to the house, brought a CO detector from his previous residence and just threw on the dryer,” Reed said. “So when it went off, he thought that the battery needed to be changed. So he changed the battery and it went off again.”

He said that residence had a high level of carbon monoxide.

“It was just fluke luck,” Reed said. “If he didn’t have that (CO detector), it would have been catastrophic.”

Reed said for rentals, landlords must provide quality, working carbon monoxide detectors and smoke detectors, preferably hardwired with battery backup.

“The problem with CO is that there’s no warning signs,” Reed said.

“It’s odorless and colorless. You don’t have a bad taste in your mouth. It slowly accumulates and builds up, and that’s the problem. That’s why you need a detection system to really see it.”

Reed said common sources of carbon monoxide include propane-burning ovens and stoves, pellet stoves and and propane and kerosene heaters that are not vented or not vented properly.

They can be extremely dangerous and require proper care and usage.

Reed recommended property owners clean their chimneys, make sure there are no leaks in the piping and remove snow from direct vents.

The Fire Department recently received a call from a resident concerned about a chimney blockage.

“We don’t clean chimneys,” Reed said. “That’s a service that some other people perform. But you have to keep your chimney clean, particularly if you’re burning a fossil fuel.”

In one case, firefighters responded to a call for a plugged chimney that created a carbon monoxide issue.

Deputy Chief Rob Dixon said carbon monoxide can be tough to detect, such as in the case of a blocked chimney.

“That’s a hard thing to track because that was a plugged chimney, as far as our data goes, but not a CO call,” Dixon said. “We’ve had four strictly CO incidents this year, but examples like that, where CO is the primary problem, don’t go in as a CO call.”

Reed said his firefighters carry carbon personal monoxide detectors for their own protection.

“So when we walk in and (a CO meter) sounds,” Reed said, “we know we need an air pack and another level of protection.”

He said exposure to carbon monoxide can make people feel tired or fatigued. Exposure can also cause headaches.

“They’re red flags,” he said. “You need to call the fire department.”

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