Commentary: CO detectors save lives

Capt. Glenn Dube
Southington Fire Dept. News and Notes

It was shortly after 10pm on January 22, 2017 that Deborah Lanzo’s son, Michael, came home and woke her up. She had been so sound asleep that she had not heard her carbon monoxide (CO) detector sounding in her home.

After calling 911 and notifying her upstairs neighbor, both mother and son went outside to await the fire department’s arrival. On duty members of B-Shift arrived minutes later and began checking the home for carbon monoxide. They also began checking the second floor.

Firefighters found CO present throughout the first floor and also on the second floor landing, although it had not yet entered the second floor residence. The culprit was a malfunctioning stove in the first floor kitchen. When firefighters turned the stove on, almost immediately the amount of CO rose more than 100 parts per million—a sign that there would rapidly have been a life-threatening level of CO in the house.

The offending stove was shut down and tagged “out of service.” Firefighters used fans to clear the CO out of the entire building, ensuring the atmosphere was safe before allowing residents to reoccupy their home. They also found that the combination CO-Smoke detector was past its recommended service life of 10 years and replaced it with a new one.

Manufacturers recommend that any smoke or CO detector older than 10 years be replaced, as they may become ineffective. Even though the detector in the Lanzo residence functioned correctly in this instance, any detector past its service life should be replaced with a new one.

Deborah Lanzo sitting with her father and her son, Michael Lanzo Jr.

CO, which is a natural byproduct of incomplete fossil fuel combustion, is a silent killer. Over 400 people die annually in the United States from accidental CO poisoning. Another 20,000 are taken to the hospital for treatment and 4,000 of those are ill enough to be admitted.

Anything in your home that uses fossil fuels could possibly produce CO. Furnaces, stoves, generators, wood, coal, and pellet stoves, vehicles in or near a garage, and portable heaters are all items we look for and check during a CO investigation call.

Carbon monoxide kills by preventing oxygen from being carried in the blood to vital organs. At high enough concentrations it effectively asphyxiates its victims. It has no odor, no color, absolutely no way for you to tell if it is there except for your CO detector. Never ignore an operating smoke or CO detector, even if you are certain it’s “just a dead battery.”

Call us immediately. Then evacuate and wait outside for the fire department. Please do not open any windows or doors before we get there. It makes it much harder for us to determine if there is CO present and if so, where it is coming from.

Deborah and Michael Lanzo Jr. did exactly what they were supposed to do that night. They had a working CO detector, and when it went off they called us and evacuated. A new stove and a new CO detector later their story is one with a happy ending and a lesson worth learning.

Glenn Dube is a captain in the Southington Fire Department and a columnist for The Observer.

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