Securing Homes Against a Stealth Attack


By Sam DiGiovanna

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Often called the silent killer, carbon monoxide (CO) is an invisible, odorless, colorless gas created when fuels (such as gasoline, wood, coal, natural gas, propane, oil, and methane) burn incompletely. In the home, the leading cause of carbon monoxide is heating and cooking equipment that burn fuel.

Carbon monoxide causes damage to the heart and nervous system by blocking the ability to deliver oxygen to the body. Symptoms include: headache, dizziness, drowsiness, shortness of breath and nausea. About half the people poisoned by carbon monoxide can have a delayed neurological reaction.


Alarm Installation

•Choose a carbon monoxide alarm that has the label of a recognized testing laboratory. Install and maintain alarms inside your home to provide early warning of carbon monoxide.

•Carbon monoxide alarms should be installed in a central location outside each separate sleeping area, on every level of the home, and in other locations where required by applicable laws, codes or standards. For the best protection, install alarms that are interconnected throughout the home. When one sounds, they all sound.

•Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for placement and mounting height.

•Combination smoke-carbon monoxide alarms must be installed in accordance with requirements for smoke alarms.

•Carbon monoxide alarms are not substitutes for smoke alarms and vice versa.


Testing and Replacement

•Test carbon monoxide alarms at least once a month and replace them if they fail to respond correctly when tested. The sensors in these alarms have a limited life. Replace the carbon monoxide alarm according to manufacturer’s instructions or when the end-of-life signal sounds.

•Know the difference between the sound of the carbon monoxide alarm and the smoke alarm, and their low-battery signals. If the audible low battery signal sounds, replace the batteries or replace the device. If the carbon monoxide alarm still sounds, get to a fresh air location and call 9-1-1 or the fire department.

•To keep CO alarms working well, follow manufacturer’s instructions for cleaning.



•Have fuel-burning heating equipment (fireplaces, furnaces, water heaters, wood stoves, coal stoves, space heaters and portable heaters) and chimneys inspected by a professional every year.

•Open the damper for proper ventilation before using a fireplace.

•Never use your oven or stovetop to heat your home. The carbon monoxide gas might kill people and pets.

•When purchasing new heating and cooking equipment, select products tested and labeled by a recognized testing laboratory.

•Make sure all fuel-burning vented equipment is vented to the outside to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning. Keep the venting for exhaust clear and unblocked.

•If you need to warm a vehicle, remove it from the garage immediately after starting it. Never run a vehicle or other fueled engine or motor indoors, even if garage doors are open. Make sure the exhaust pipe of a running vehicle is not blocked with snow, ice or other materials. The carbon monoxide gas might kill people and pets.

•Make sure vents for the dryer, furnace, stove and fireplace are clear of snow and other debris.

•Only use barbecue grills outside, away from all doors, windows, vents and other building openings. Some grills can produce carbon monoxide gas. Never use grills inside the home or the garage, even if the doors are open.

•Use portable generators outdoors in well-ventilated areas away from all doors, windows, vents and other building openings to prevent exhaust fumes from entering the home.

If Your Carbon Monoxide Alarm Sounds

•Immediately move to a fresh air location (outdoors or by an open window or door). Make sure everyone inside the home is accounted for.

•Call 9-1-1 or the fire department from a fresh air location (outdoors or by an open window). Remain at a fresh air location until emergency personnel arrive to assist you.


Fire Chief Sam DiGiovanna lives in Aliso Viejo and is a training officer for the Glendale fire department.