Safeguard Against Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

The following is the second in a series about Fire Safety. The information has been provided by the Middlesex County Board of Chosen Freeholders, Freeholder H. James Polos, Chairman of the Public Safety and Health Committee, and Michael Gallagher, County Fire Marshal.

MIDDLESEX COUNTY — Since the beginning of this year, Middlesex County has mourned the fire-related deaths of 11 County residents.

These fires gave no advanced warning, did not discriminate on age, race, color or creed. Everyone is vulnerable to the effects and consequences of fire.

The entire community mourns when a family suffers tragic loss due to a fire. The sad truth is that any household in any community can fall victim to a fire.

What is most alarming is that so many fire-related deaths are preventable. There are things that we as individuals, families and communities can do to prevent fires and prepare for those that do happen.

Over the course of this series, you will be provided with safety tips that can prevent fires from happening, and could ultimately save lives.


Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless, tasteless and toxic gas that is often referred to as the ‘silent killer.”

When inhaled, it inhibits the blood’s capacity to transport oxygen throughout the body. It can poison the body quickly in high concentrations or slowly over longer periods of time.

Carbon monoxide is a by-product of incomplete burning of fuel such as natural gas, propane, heating oil, kerosene, coal, charcoal, gasoline or wood. This incomplete combustion can occur in any device that depends on burning fuel for energy or heat, such as furnaces, room heaters, fireplaces, hot water heaters, stoves or grills and any gas-powered vehicle or engine.

Unsafe levels of carbon monoxide can be created by automobiles left running in attached garages, gas barbecues operated inside the house, grills or kerosene heaters that are not properly vented, or chimneys or vents that are dirty or plugged.

Exposure to carbon monoxide can cause flu-like symptoms such as headaches, nausea, dizziness, burning eyes, confusion, drowsiness and even loss of consciousness. In severe cases, carbon monoxide poisoning can cause brain damage and death.

The elderly, children and individuals with heart or respiratory conditions are particularly sensitive to carbon monoxide.

Carbon monoxide detectors are relatively inexpensive and simple to install. The proper placement of a carbon monoxide detector is extremely important. In general, the human body is most vulnerable to the effects of carbon monoxide during sleeping hours, so a detector should be located in or as near as possible to the sleeping area of the home.

If only one detector is being installed, it should be located near the sleeping area, where it can wake you if you are asleep. However, additional carbon monoxide detectors are recommended and should be placed on each level of a residence. They should also be installed in other rooms where combustion devices are located. These rooms include sources of carbon monoxide such as furnace or utility rooms or attached garage(s).

Now might be a good time to purchase or check your carbon monoxide detector.

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