RETIRED MASTER SGT. ED ROLOFF
2nd Psychological Operations Group
On a snowy night in Hamburg, New York, a motorist struck an electrical pole near Dave Johnson’s home, causing a power outage. Due to the foul weather and late hour, the power company would not be able to repair service to the area for at least four to six hours. “No big deal,” Dave thought. Like most Hamburg residents, he was accustomed to frequent power outages during the winter and owned a gas-powered generator.
Despite the manufacturer’s warning, Dave set up the generator inside his attached garage (with the garage door open). Early the next morning, when the power was restored, Dave walked out into the garage to turn off the generator. When he walked back into the house, he stumbled, fell, vomited and then passed out. Dave’s wife, Lisa, came out of the bedroom to investigate the commotion and also stumbled and fell. She yelled for her oldest daughter, who called 911 when she found her parents on the floor. The entire family was transported to the local emergency room.
So what happened? Dave, Lisa and their two daughters were victims of carbon monoxide poisoning. Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless gas that can cause sudden illness and death. It is found in combustion vapors such as those produced by vehicles, small gasoline engines, stoves, lanterns, burning charcoal and wood, and gas ranges and heating systems. The carbon monoxide from these sources can build up in enclosed or semi-enclosed spaces, poisoning the people and animals breathing it.
The most common symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, chest pain and confusion. High levels of carbon monoxide ingestion can cause loss of consciousness and death. Since many of these symptoms are similar to those of the flu, food poisoning or other illnesses, some victims may not realize carbon monoxide poisoning could be the cause of their problems.
Carbon monoxide poisoning is the result of the gas invading the blood stream. Red blood cells absorb carbon monoxide quicker than they absorb oxygen. If there is a high quantity in the air, the body may replace the oxygen in the blood with carbon monoxide. This blocks oxygen from getting into the body, which can damage tissues and result in death. People who are sleeping or intoxicated can die from carbon monoxide poisoning before ever experiencing symptoms.
If you experience any of the symptoms associated with carbon monoxide poisoning, get fresh air immediately. Then go to an emergency room and tell the physician you suspect you’re suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning. If carbon monoxide poisoning has occurred, it can often be diagnosed by a blood test conducted soon after exposure. The treatment is high-dose oxygen, usually administered through a facemask attached to a reserve bag. In severe cases, a hyperbaric pressure chamber, if available, may be used to provide even higher doses of oxygen.
There is nothing wrong with using a portable generator during an emergency, but it must be used wisely and in accordance with the manufacturer’s specifications. When used in a confined space, generators can produce high levels of carbon monoxide within minutes. Here are some safety tips for using a portable generator:
• Never use a generator inside homes, garages, crawlspaces, sheds or similar areas, even when using fans or opening doors and windows for ventilation.
• Follow the manufacturer’s instructions that come with the generator.
• Locate the unit outdoors and far from doors, windows and vents that could allow carbon monoxide to come indoors.
• Install battery-operated carbon monoxide detectors/alarms or plug-in carbon monoxide alarms with a battery back-up in your home, according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
Some advice on carbon monoxide detectors: Don’t let buying one lull you into a false sense of security. Preventing carbon monoxide from becoming a problem in your home is better than relying on an alarm. Also, do some research on the features of several different detectors and don’t select one solely on the basis of cost. Non-governmental organizations such as Consumers Union (publisher of Consumer Reports), the American Gas Association and Underwriters Laboratories can help you make an informed decision. It is important for you to know that the technology of carbon monoxide detectors is still developing. While there are several types on the market, they are not generally considered to be as reliable as the smoke detectors found in homes. Unlike a smoke detector, where you can easily confirm the cause of the alarm, carbon monoxide is invisible and odorless, so it’s harder to tell if an alarm is false or a real emergency.
After their carbon monoxide scare, Dave and Lisa spent four days in the hospital receiving high-dose oxygen treatment inside a hyperbaric chamber. Their daughters were treated with high-dose oxygen through a facemask and discharged after two days. Dave learned a valuable lesson on the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning, and he and his family received a very precious gift — life!
According to study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, January is the worst month for carbon monoxide poisoning
Did You Know?
Carbon monoxide exposure accounts for an estimated 15,000 emergency room visits and 500 deaths in the United States each year.Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention