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Carbon Monoxide Awareness

Carbon Monoxide Awareness Brochure [PDF]

Carbon monoxide (also called CO) is a poisonous gas that you cannot see, smell or taste. It is often referred to as the "silent killer." CO is produced by the incomplete burning of fuels such as natural gas, propane, heating oil, kerosene, coal, charcoal or wood. Improperly installed or poorly maintained appliances that run on these fuels may create unsafe levels of CO. In enclosed spaces such as your home, cottage or recreational vehicle, even a small amount of CO is dangerous.

What are the symptoms of CO poisoning?

Exposure to CO can cause flu-like symptoms such as headaches, nausea, dizziness, fatigue, burning eyes, confusion, disorientation, drowsiness and even loss of consciousness. When inhaled, carbon monoxide interferes with the body's ability to absorb oxygen, and in very severe cases, CO poisoning can cause brain damage and death. The elderly, children, people with heart or respiratory conditions and pets may be particularly sensitive to CO and may feel the effects sooner.

What can create a CO hazard?

Conditions that can create a CO hazard include:

  • Fuel-burning appliances, venting systems and chimneys that have not been serviced and maintained regularly by a qualified service technician or heating contractor.
  • A chimney blocked by a bird or squirrel's nest, snow and ice or other debris.
  • Improper venting of a furnace and cracked furnace heat exchangers.
  • Exhaust fumes seeping into your home from a car running in an attached garage.
  • Using fuel-burning appliances designed for outdoor use (barbecues, lanterns, chainsaws, lawnmowers, snowblowers) in a closed area (tent, recreational vehicle, cottage, workshop, garage).
  • Combustion gases spilling into a home if too much air is being consumed by a fireplace or exhausted by kitchen/bathroom fans in a tightly-sealed house.
Be aware of these Danger Signs!

  • You or other members of your family are experiencing the symptoms of CO exposure.
  • You notice a sharp, penetrating odour or smell of gas when your furnace or other fuel-burning appliance turns on.
  • The air feels stale or stuffy.
  • The pilot light of your gas furnace or other fuel-burning appliance goes out.
  • Chalky, white powder forms on the chimney/exhaust vent pipe or soot build up around the exhaust vent.
  • Excessive moisture forms on windows and walls.
  • The alarm of a carbon monoxide detector sounds.
What should you do if you suspect Carbon Monoxide poisoning?

If you or a family member experience any of the above-described danger signs, evacuate immediately and call 9-1-1. Be prepared to provide the following information:
  • your address
  • whether or not anyone is feeling ill with "flu like" symptoms as previously described
  • whether or not everyone has evacuated the residence
The dispatcher will determine the response required based on the answers to the above - most significantly, whether or not anyone is feeling ill. If anyone is feeling ill, medical and fire personnel will be assigned to the call on an emergency basis. Paramedics will treat any victims and the fire department will monitor for CO gas and assist with the other activities.

If no one is feeling ill, fire personnel will be dispatched on a routine basis to monitor for CO gas and advise if a "real" carbon monoxide problem exists.

What Can You Do To Prevent Carbon Monoxide Poisoning?
The best way to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning is to ensure all appliances are well-serviced and maintained. Have your furnace and chimney serviced regularly. Don't leave automobiles running in the garage, use barbecues outside only, and operate all gas-powered equipment outdoors, in well-ventilated areas. CO alarms are not a substitute for maintenance by a qualified technician, and safe use of this equipment can help prevent a carbon monoxide hazard.

About Carbon Monoxide Alarms - The Law

Effective October 14, 2015 the Ontario Fire Code requires working carbon monoxide alarms in all residential homes that have a fuel-burning appliance (e.g., gas water heater or gas furnace), fireplace or attached garage. Please check specific requirements regarding multi-residential dwellings by contacting the Fire Department at (905) 883-5444.

In addition to the requirements of the Ontario Fire Code, Richmond Hill’s By-law 245-99 has been in effect since November 16 1999, and states that all homes must be equipped with a carbon monoxide alarm.

At least one CO alarm must be installed adjacent to the sleeping area of your home. You may need more than one CO alarm if sleeping areas are located on different levels of your home. CO alarms are placed adjacent to the sleeping area to increase the likelihood that sleeping occupants will hear the alarm if it goes off. CO alarms should not be installed near any fuel-burning appliances. And remember to test the unit every month. Please refer to the manufacturer's instructions for further details regarding proper use and maintenance.

The Ontario Fire Code recognizes the different types of CO alarms that are available in stores. CO alarms come in battery-operated, hard-wired or plug-in units. Hard-wired and plug-in units may also have a battery back-up; this is recommended to ensure that you have a working alarm and protection even during a power outage. Only carbon monoxide alarms bearing the new Canadian Standards Association ULC/CGA -6.19 standard or the Underwriters' Laboratories (UL) 2034 standard are recommended.

Unlike smoke, which rises to the ceiling, CO mixes with air. Hence CO alarms may be installed at any height. However, if a combination smoke/CO alarm is used, it must be installed on or near the ceiling as per manufacturer’s instructions, to ensure that it can detect smoke effectively.

CO alarms sound different from smoke alarms when they activate. By introducing a new emergency device into the home, it is important that everyone in the household knows the difference between an alarming smoke alarm and an alarming CO alarm.

As well, everyone needs to know the difference between an actual alarm sound versus the low battery or end of life warnings for both their smoke and CO alarms. Owners should consult their instruction manual to obtain further information on the characteristics of the audible signals for each device.

CO alarms DO NOT last forever and do need to be replaced. You should also refer to your manufacturer’s instructions for replacement and maintenance instructions. And remember to test your alarm every month.

The use of CO alarms can warn you about sudden failures of fuel-burning appliances and are a good second line of defence against CO exposure in your home, cottage and recreational vehicle.

Office of the Fire Marshal

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