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Carbon monoxide alert should be treated like emergency

| Saturday, Jan. 18, 2014, 5:48 p.m.
Frank Maiolo, a commercial sales associate for at Lowe’s in Cranberry, adjusts a display of carbon monoxide detectors.

The cold weather this month not only chilled Butler County, it also sent carbon monoxide detectors and emergency calls into overdrive.

“There's been an increase, but that's normal whenever you're using your furnaces, stoves, wood stoves more,” said Steve Bicehouse, director of the county's 911 center. Bicehouse could not say how many such calls the center had received this winter, but acknowledged he has heard more calls being dispatched to area fire departments.

“Any time you have a carbon monoxide indication, you should treat it as an emergency until it's proven not to be,” Bicehouse said. “I hope that people take them seriously.”

Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas that's produced by the incomplete burning of various fuels, including coal, wood, charcoal, oil, kerosene, propane and natural gas, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. In high concentrations, it can cause dizziness, headaches, disorientation. Prolonged exposure can be deadly.

About 170 people die each year in the United States of carbon monoxide poisoning, the commission said.

In Cranberry, fire Chief Brian Kovac said the department has responded to four calls since the beginning of the year, one in which a person inside a home was taken to an area hospital for treatment.

During the winter, the department typically responds to five or six carbon monoxide calls per month, though many are false alarms, Kovac said.

People frequently place their detectors next to their garage in their home. When someone pulls their car into the garage, it creates a small amount of carbon monoxide. Over time, that builds up in the detector, Kovac said.

If a detector goes off, firefighters will go to the home to see if there's an actual problem, Kovac said. If higher levels are present, he said, the department will summon the gas company to deal with the appliance that might be causing the problem.

Frank Maiolo, a commercial sales associate at Lowe's in Cranberry, said furnaces also should be checked annually to ensure they're working properly.

“Carbon monoxide detectors are just as important as smoke detectors,” Maiolo said.

Bill Vidonic is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5621 or bvidonic@tribweb.com.

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