The Normal Fire Department said carbon monoxide is the leading cause of accidental poisoning deaths in the U.S., with more than 200,000 people hospitalized and nearly 500 killed each year. (Stephanie Pawlowski/WJBC)
By Stephanie Pawlowski
NORMAL - The Normal Fire Department credits a carbon monoxide alarm for saving seven college students this week.
Public Information Officer Matt Swaney said the department was called to a home in the 500 block of Broadway Monday at 10:30 p.m. for a CO alarm. He said initial readings in the home were low.
"When the firefighters when into the basement, the meter started spiking and was over 250 parts per million and was continuing to rise," Swaney said. "When they went in, they discovered that the flue pipe for the boiler had fallen out of the chimney and was just pumping the exhaust straight into the basement, and was filling the basement with carbon monoxide."
The residents have been relocated while the issue is fixed.
Swaney said when people hear the CO alarm go off, they typically do one of two things, immediately call the department and wait outside, or ignore the alarm.
"The correct thing to do if your alarm is beeping is to go to the alarm itself and figure out the pattern of beeps. Because a lot of times the beep either means the detector is malfunctioning, there is a low battery or there truly is an alarm," Swaney said.
There should be a label on the alarm itself that explains the patterns. He said if you can't figure it out, still call the department for help.
The health effects from carbon monoxide relate to the concentration in parts per million to the air. In concentrations above 35 ppm, headache, dizziness and nausea are common. In concentrations higher than 100 ppm, symptoms are more severe with the potential for seizures, disorientation, fatigue or even death.
If the alarm goes off and the illness is a factor, occupants should evacuate, call 911 and mention the illness, stay out of the home until the fire department signs off and call a qualified professional to repair the source of the CO.
To avoid CO poisoning, the Normal Fire Department recommends: