WILSON TOWNSHIP - A carbon monoxide detector alerted a Wilson Township household in time to prevent injury Monday.
Wilson Township firefighters were called out to a house on Werth Road shortly after 11 a.m. Monday, department Chief Gil LaCross said. According to the incident report, the people inside the house had opened some windows and evacuated. They were starting to experience mild symptoms of carbon monoxide before they did, and the house's carbon monoxide detectors had alerted them to the problem as well.
Their symptoms cleared quickly, and after paramedics checked them out and consulted with the hospital they determined no treatment was necessary, LaCross said. The furnace chimney cap had shifted, apparently blocking the exhaust, and Alpena Township firefighters assisted with their carbon monoxide analyzer.
While the people inside the house were just starting to feel the effects, carbon monoxide is a potentially deadly gas, LaCross said.
"If you don't heed the warnings from it and get out, you're going to end up dying from it," he said.
Carbon monoxide attaches to the hemoglobin in red blood cells, preventing them from carrying oxygen, LaCross said. Early symptoms of exposure are headaches, nausea and possibly difficulty breathing.
Those symptoms progress to drowsiness, vomiting and, later, unconsciousness, Alpena City Fire Shift Captain Mike Manchester said. Those who have been poisoned to the point of vomiting need immediate medical attention, and chronic exposure to low levels can cause flu-like symptoms for days at a time.
"Sometimes people who think they have a flu or cold that won't go away probably should get their appliances looked at," he said.
Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless product of combustion, and gas appliances are the main household sources, Manchester said. This includes furnaces, water heaters, gas fireplaces and dryers. Improperly vented appliances are the most common cause of high household levels. Chimneys or vents can get blocked by snow, or haven't been properly cleaned out. Since most furnaces are gas-fired, winter is a common time for household carbon monoxide problems.
Gas-powered generators are another source, Manchester said. They need to be run outside and away from any doors, windows or vents.
"Basically what you want to do is make sure appliances are kept up in good condition," he said. "We always recommend having furnaces checked at least annually."
Having a good detector is also important, Manchester said. Be sure to follow instructions when installing them, as putting them too close to certain gas-burning appliances can cause false alarms. Less expensive detectors also tend to give more false alarms.
If the detector sounds, or someone is experiencing symptoms, call the gas company or fire department and get outside, Manchester said. LaCross also suggested calling a repair service and staying outside until they check appliances and vents.
The Centers for Disease Control has more information on carbon monoxide poisoning and prevention online at: www.cdc.gov/co/