An invisible killer is on the loose

  • Published
  • By Aiman 1st Class Montse Ramirez
  • 509th Bomb Wing Public Affairs
According to the Department of Homeland Security, each year in America, unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning claims more than 400 lives and sends another 20,000 people to hospital emergency rooms for treatment.

Carbon monoxide is produced whenever fuel such as gas, oil kerosene, wood or charcoal is burned. If appliances that burn fuel are not working properly or used incorrectly, dangerous levels of CO can result, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

This odorless, colorless gas makes it impossible to see or smell the toxic fumes, killing people before they are even aware it is in their homes.

Timothy Robinson, 509th Civil Engineer Squadron fire prevention inspector, said luckily there hasn't been any deaths from CO here. However, during the winter months the fire department had more than 200 calls concerning CO problems.

"The winter months are especially dangerous," Mr. Robinson said. "If a fuel-burning appliance leaks CO, the gas accumulates due to the lack of ventilation."

He said carbon monoxide poisoning is especially dangerous because its symptoms are headaches, dizziness, nausea and shortness of breath, which are similar to those of the flu or food poisoning, making it difficult to pin-point CO as the cause.

"The more unhealthy a person is, the harsher the symptoms," said Mr. Robinson. "Children, elderly people, and those with anemia or a history of heart or respiratory disease are more susceptible to the gas."

Mr. Robinson says prevention is the key to avoiding CO poisoning.

"All base housing here has CO detectors, but the best way to avoid CO poisoning is to stop a leak from fuel maintained appliances," said Mr. Robinson. "If you don't have a detector already, it would be good to get one just in case. I recommend purchasing one with an Underwriters Laboratories certification."

If a gas leak is detected, or event suspected, Mr. Robinson suggests calling 911 and evacuating the building immediately.

"Go to a neighbor's home and wait for the fire department," Mr. Robinson said. "If you think you might have CO poisoning, go to the emergency room.

"It is our job to keep the Whiteman team safe," he said. "I want to give them as much information as I can to help the base populace be not just safe, but also healthy."

For more information call Mr. Robinson at (660) 687-6080 or Paul Williams, 509th CES, assistant chief of fire prevention at (660) 687-6083.