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CO detector safety includes replacing alarms, officials say

Updated: February 25, 2013 12:45PM

With colder weather and sealed-up buildings, the threat of carbon monoxide increases.

The Office of the State Fire Marshal says carbon monoxide detectors should be replaced every three years, and that residents should pay attention to the distinct signals sent by the alarms when their life has expired.

Carbon monoxide is the No. 1 cause of poisoning deaths in the nation, claiming approximately 300 lives a year, according to the National Fire Protection Association.

Because CO is an odorless, colorless, tasteless gas, it can kill people before they realize its presence. It can be produced by gas or oil appliances such as furnaces, clothes dryers, water heaters, ovens, space heaters or, in some cases, by fireplaces and wood burning stoves, the fire marshal’s office said in a release.

“People may believe that a beep coming out of their CO alarm means it’s time for a battery change, when in fact it means that the device needs to be replaced,” said State Fire Marshal Larry Matkaitis. “The replacement of dead carbon monoxide alarms is a life saver.”

Since January 2007, an Illinois law requires people to have properly placed and functioning CO alarms in all dwelling units that have an attached garage and/or fossil fuel burning capabilities. In addition, alarms must have battery power as the primary or secondary power supply. They cannot be solely electric powered.

The fire marshal’s office said CO alarms manufactured before August 2009 (prior to the incorporation of the new requirements) may not have the end-of-life feature.

Carbon monoxide alarms should be tested every month by pushing the test button. If the alarm goes off, the office urges residents to follow these steps:

Evacuate everyone from your home immediately, leaving the door open for ventilation on your way out.

Call 911 only after leaving the dwelling.

Do not re-enter until experts have investigated the problem and declared it safe to return.

Other important safety tips related to CO poisoning:

Make sure household appliances are installed and running correctly. Have a professional technician check fuel-burning appliances, furnaces, chimneys and vents at least annually for blockages, corrosion, debris and faulty connections.

Never operate unvented fuel-burning appliances in a room with closed doors or windows, or in rooms where people are sleeping.

Check venting systems on the outside for cracks and blockages such as flues, chimneys and fireplaces

Make sure space heaters are vented properly.

Never operate generators indoors.

Never burn charcoal inside a home, garage, vehicle or tent.

Never use gasoline-powered tools or engines indoors.

Never use gas-powered appliances such as an oven or clothes dryer for heating a home.

Never leave a car running in an attached garage, even if the garage door is open.

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