Nine members of a Mesa family were treated by emergency workers this week for carbon monoxide poisoning after operating a barbecue too close to an open door of their home.
Though emergencies related to carbon monoxide can happen year-round, they often occur in winter when people try to heat their homes through unconventional methods, said Mesa Fire Department engineer Brian Hickey.
A colorless, odorless gas, carbon monoxide is the by-product of fossil fuel burning. It can be present when using a fireplace, operating a car in a confined space, using a barbecue or gas grill, or around any natural gas appliances.
In the case in Mesa, the fumes from a barbecue being used too close to a home were sucked inside and sickened the residents, first a 2-year-old then the rest of the family. Five adults and four children were treated at a local hospital, said fire department spokesman Capt. Forrest Smith.
When an emergency call comes in with complaints about dizziness or flu-like symptoms among multiple people in a home where natural gas or a barbecue is present, emergency response teams have their first clue that carbon monoxide poisoning may be the culprit, Hickey said.
Carbon monoxide removes oxygen from the blood, said firefighter Jason Hall. Chief complaints are headaches, dizziness, loss of mental capacity and disorientation.
Once carbon monoxide attaches to the hemoglobin in the blood, it can take up to 320 minutes for it to leave the body if not treated, Hall said. If a patient is given high-flow oxygen, as is often used on suspected victims, the carbon monoxide may detach in 80 minutes. In cases of severe poisoning, hospitals may use a hyperbaric oxygen therapy.
Without proper treatment, a victim may fall unconscious and ultimately die because the body organs lack oxygen.
When they arrive, emergency crews first remove people from the confined area, be it a home, garage or other closed-in space. Once outside, they can use monitoring equipment to measure carbon monoxide levels in the blood stream. A separate machine monitors levels in the confined space or home.
Families may not even realize they have a possible carbon monoxide issue, fire engineer Kevin Ressler said. But there are many home appliances — from the gas water heater to the gas furnace — that can cause problems if not properly ventilated.
Homeowners should have gas appliances serviced yearly, fire officials said.
Ressler said families that use gas appliances should also have carbon monoxide monitors near the appliances, as well as near bedrooms. The monitors, which can be bought at home improvement stores, should be plugged in low to the ground where carbon monoxide would be found. An alarm will sound if there are unhealthy levels, signaling a need to leave the home.
Faulty chimneys or flues not opened enough can also cause carbon monoxide build-up in a home, Ressler said. Even artificial logs can produce the dangerous gas.
There may not be a lot of smoke present, but carbon monoxide may still be there.
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