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Carbon monoxide – safety, symptoms and emergency preparedness

For immediate release: January 18, 2021 - 10:00am
FI21-1877

The Saskatoon Fire Department knows that working carbon monoxide alarms save lives.

Carbon monoxide alarms are intended to alert you to the possibility of an odourless, colourless, tasteless, and poisonous gas in your home. Elevated levels of carbon 

monoxide can cause illness or death before people even know it is there. Be sure to become familiar with the sound of your carbon monoxide alarm

“Carbon monoxide alarms should be installed outside each sleeping area and are most effective when interconnected throughout your home,” says Fire Chief Morgan Hackl. “Test your carbon monoxide alarms monthly and change the batteries at least once a year. The entire alarm should be replaced every seven years or sooner if required.”

Carbon monoxide incidents account for approximately two per cent of the Saskatoon Fire Department’s responses. Most cases involving carbon monoxide are quickly mitigated; however, some do require additional resources or action. In 2020, the Saskatoon Fire Department responded to over 300 carbon monoxide incidents.

Chief Hackl reminds residents there are some practical ways to keep your home free of carbon monoxide:

  • Have your heating equipment, like furnaces and fireplaces, properly installed, maintained and inspected by a licensed contractor. 
  • Make sure that your furnace and water heater pipes are in good condition. 
  • Make sure all furnace panels or grills are in place and the fan compartment door is secured.  
  • Make sure that your chimneys and flue vents are not blocked by debris, frost or snow. 
  • Have your fuel-burning appliances, like water heaters, gas ranges, gas clothes dryers or gas fueled portable heaters properly installed, maintained and inspected by a licensed contractor. 
  • Never use a gas barbecue indoors.  
  • Never run your vehicle in the garage, even if the garage door is open. 
  • Never run a generator in your home, garage or crawl space. Opening doors and windows or using fans will not prevent carbon monoxide build-up in the home. 
  • Never use a gas range, oven or dryer for heating. 
  • Never start lawn mowers or snow blowers inside an enclosed space.

Exposure to carbon monoxide can cause flu-like symptoms such as headaches, nausea, dizziness, burning eyes, confusion, drowsiness or loss of consciousness. In severe cases, carbon monoxide poisoning can cause brain damage and death. The elderly, children and people with heart or respiratory conditions may be particularly sensitive to carbon monoxide.

The Saskatoon Fire Department has about 140 primary care paramedics. Each fire engine responds with at least one firefighter-paramedic and comes equipped with a carbon monoxide monitor capable of determining the parts-per-million (PPM) concentration of carbon monoxide present in the air.

“Firefighter-paramedics can also measure the carboxyhemoglobin level in the blood of a patient experiencing the effects of carbon monoxide poisoning,” Hackl says. “They use a non-invasive medical assessment tool at the scene and immediately begin appropriate treatment based on that assessment.”

If your carbon monoxide alarm is sounding or if you believe you are experiencing the effects of carbon monoxide poisoning, evacuate all occupants and pets from the home and immediately call 911. 

In an emergency, seconds count; a functioning carbon monoxide alarm can be the difference in preventing a tragedy in your home.