Carbon monoxide, or CO, comes from burning fossil fuels such as wood, oil, gas and propane. It is called the “silent killer” because it is colourless, odorless and tasteless. The only safe way for humans to detect its presence is with a CSA-approved carbon monoxide alarm.
In recent years, safety officials have ramped up educational efforts to explain just how deadly CO can be. There are small signs it is working.
“I used to only see headlines about another family going to hospital for carbon monoxide exposure because they did not have a CO alarm,” says John Gignac. “But more and more I see headlines saying, ‘Family escapes carbon monoxide tragedy thanks to CO alarm’ which is enormously satisfying.”
Gignac knows the deadly reality of carbon monoxide firsthand. Seven years ago the retired firefighter lost his niece, her husband and their two children when a blocked chimney vent forced deadly carbon monoxide from their gas fireplace back into their home.
“My niece and her family had no chance because they did not have a CO alarm,” Gignac says.
In their memory, Gignac established the Hawkins-Gignac Foundation to educate families and to implore everyone to install a carbon monoxide alarm. The average home has several potential sources of the deadly gas, but Gignac says too many of us still have not installed a CO alarm.
“Many people I speak to don’t think they need a CO alarm because they have electric baseboard heat,” Gignac says. “But when I ask them if they have a gas appliance or a wood-burning or gas fireplace, or a garage, they realize they have been putting their family at risk.”
The gas has another potentially deadly trait. Symptoms of CO exposure mimic the flu, without the fever, so it is commonly misdiagnosed.
• Have a licensed inspector check heating systems and other fuel-burning appliances, including fireplaces, every year.
• Install one CO alarm on each level of your home and outside all sleeping areas.
• Replace CO alarms manufactured prior to 2009, whether they are battery powered or hardwired.
• Consider installing a CO alarm that has a continuous digital display. It will warn you if low levels of the deadly gas are present, so you can address the problem before CO reaches harmful levels.
“Most carbon monoxide alarms cost about $40, a small price to pay for your family’s safety,” Gignac adds.
More safety tips can be found at http://www.endthesilence.ca.