RUMFORD — State Police on Jan. 29 discovered a Lyman, NH couple, along with several cats and dogs, dead due to carbon monoxide poisoning. An alarm to detect the gas was found inside their home, but had no batteries.
Rumford Fire Chief Chris Reed says 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.”
“The other issue we’ve been finding is that the snowbanks are so high against their houses that the direct vent furnaces (ones that go directly out the pipe to the side of the house), if you don’t clear it, the intake on the other side of it just brings the CO right back in,” he said.
Reed said carbon monoxide is one of those gases that’s both toxic and flammable. Most of the time, the toxicity kills you first. In a structure fire, when there’s a lot of smoke, you’ll see the fire in the smoke. It’s the carbon monoxide burning. It’s a flammable gas.
He said CO detectors monitor CO levels. When they sound, it’s for 10 percent of the permissable 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. That way, when they go to sleep, they have some level of protection,” said Reed.
He said the batteries for CO detectors always seem to be a 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. So when it went off, he thought that the battery needed to be changed. So he changed the battery and it went off again,” said Reed.
He said that residence had high doses of CO. “It was just fluke luck. If he didn’t have that (CO detector), it would have been catastrophic.”
Reed said if someone is renting, the landlord needs to make sure they have carbon monoxide detectors and smoke detectors, preferred hardwired with battery backup.
“The problem with CO is that there’s no warning signs. It’s odorless, 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,” he said.
Reed said things that produce CO that you really don’t think about include propane-fire ovens and stoves, pellet wood stoves, and propane and kerosene heaters that are unvented.
The good news is that this danger is preventable.
He said make sure you clean your chimney well, make sure you have no leaks in your piping, remove snow away from your direct vents.
The department recently received a call from an elderly person concerned about a chimney blockage.
“We don’t clean chimneys. 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,” said Reed.
In one case, firefighters responded to a call of a plugged chimney that ended up being a CO issue.
Deputy Chief Rob Dixon added, “And that’s a hard thing to track because that was a plugged chimney, as far as our data goes, but not a CO call. 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 that for their own protection, they carry CO meters with them. “So when we walk in and it (CO meter) sounds, we know we need an air pack and another level of protection.”
He said that if you don’t have a CO alarm in your residence, and become tired, fatigued, a headache…”they’re red flags. You need to call the fire department (364-2901).”
Reed said they will check out the residence with carbon monoxide meters “and we always measure everything twice.”
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Rumford Fire Chief Chris Reed holds a carbon monoxide detector, something people need to have to protect themselves from a gas that’s colorless, odorless and deadly.

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