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Cook County fire officials remind residents importance of having working carbon monoxide alarms in their homes

Nov 21, 2022 02:00PM ● By Laura Durenberger
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From the Cook County Fire Chief’s Association - November 21, 2022


Grand Marais, MN – The Cook County Fire Chief’s Association is reminding people to test their carbon monoxide (CO) alarms now that the winter heating season is upon us and with a recent uptick in carbon monoxide calls.  Also, ensure that snow build-up is kept clear from dryer, furnace, stove, and fireplace vents.  

“Carbon monoxide alarms save lives — but only if they are kept in working order,” said Ben Silence, Grand Marais Fire Chief “An alarm is the only way to detect potentially lethal levels of this odorless, colorless gas in your home.” 

Minnesota homes are required by law to have CO alarms. CO alarms need to be tested monthly and replaced every five to seven years, in accordance with the manufacturer’s recommendations. 

What is carbon monoxide?
CO is an odorless, colorless, toxic gas formed in the process of fossil fuel combustion. CO is produced when any material burns, but more is produced when there is not enough oxygen for efficient burning. 

Common sources of CO in homes include any number of common fuel-burning devices:

  • Furnaces

  • Gas or kerosene space heaters

  • Boilers

  • Gas stoves

  • Water heaters

  • Gas dryers

  • Fireplaces

  • Charcoal grills

  • Wood stoves

  • Power generators

  • Motor vehicles

How does CO affect me?
The health effects of breathing in CO depend on the concentration of gas, the duration of exposure, and the health status of the exposed person. 

For most people, the first signs of exposure to low concentrations of CO include mild headache and breathlessness during moderate exercise. Continued exposure can lead to flu-like symptoms, including severe headaches, dizziness, fatigue, or nausea that may progress to confusion, irritability, impaired judgment, memory and coordination issues. 

CO is called the “silent killer” because if the early signs are ignored, a person may lose consciousness and be unable to escape the danger. Lethal concentrations of CO have occurred within 10 minutes in a closed garage where a car was left idling.

How do I choose a CO alarm?

The Cook County Fire Chief’s Association recommends a CO alarm with a digital readout and an alarm not combined in a smoke alarm unit. The readout indicates how many parts per million are in the atmosphere.

Here are some tips for choosing an alarm:

  • Reasonably priced 

  • Easy to use, install and replace

  • Easy-to-understand operating manual and warning tags

  • Clearly visible digital readout of CO concentrations 

  • Accurate measurement of CO 

  • Small size, light weight

What do I do when the alarm sounds?
Treat all activations as real. Evacuate everyone from your home immediately, leaving the door open for ventilation on your way out. 

Call 911 from a neighbor’s home. Have your home inspected by professionals and repair any malfunctioning appliance.

More information about CO and alarms is available on the MN State Fire Marshal website:    SFM Home - Pages - State Fire Marshal - Home (mn.gov)

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