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Couple's death linked to carbon monoxide, know this silent killer

A New Jersey couple was found dead after being reported missing for three weeks. On January 24th investigators were still waiting autopsy results but it is suspected that the couple was overcome by carbon monoxide. Passaic Assistant County Prosecutor Michael DeMarco told the Star-Ledger he does not suspect foul play. Their bodies were found inside their car in the garage. The gas tank was empty and the battery was dead. Neighbors and friends suspect that the couple started the car in the closed garage in order to stay warm.

Carbon monoxide is odorless, you cannot detect it with your senses. Protect yourself with a carbon monoxide detector.
Photo by Tim Boyle/Getty Images

What is carbon monoxide poisoning?

In the body, red blood cells absorb carbon monoxide much easier and faster than oxygen. This blocks oxygen from getting into the body which can result in the destruction of tissues causing severe injury and death.

According to the U.S. Fire Administration more than 150 people in the United States die every year from accidental carbon monoxide poisoning. Carbon monoxide is considered the “invisible killer” because it is colorless, odorless, and poisonous. Undetectable to the human senses, many people may not realize they have been or are being exposed. Sources of carbon monoxide include vehicle exhaust, generators, furnaces, stoves, water heaters, and fireplaces.

Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning vary and are dependent on the level of exposure. Initial symptoms may include headache, fatigue, shortness of breath, nausea, and dizziness. More severe symptoms include mental confusion, vomiting, loss of muscular coordination, loss of consciousness, and death.

To prevent carbon monoxide poisoning you will need a carbon monoxide detector. Install a detector on every level of your home and in sleeping areas. Have your heating system, vents, chimney and flue inspected by a qualified technician. Never use a gas stove to heat your home and never leave a car running in a garage and never use gas-powered appliances or tools in enclosed areas.

If your detector sounds an alarm the first thing you need to do is get everyone into fresh air. Call 911 from a cell phone or neighbors home. If you are unable to leave the home to call for help, open the doors and windows and turn off all possible sources while you are waiting for the fire department or EMS to arrive. The fire department or utility company will check for the source of the carbon monoxide. The home should not be occupied until the leak is stopped by servicing the cause or discontinuing use of the appliance until it can be serviced. Once the release has been stopped, your fire department can check the levels of carbon monoxide in a home and con properly ventilate the home. Never ignore a carbon monoxide a alarm.

There are various types of carbon monoxide alarms. The most common type of detector is battery-powered like a smoke detector. Other detectors can be wired to home security systems or powered by home electricity with a back-up battery in the case of power outages. No matter what type of detector you use be sure to install and maintain it in accordance with the manufacturers guidelines.

Alex Zielinski is a volunteer firefighter in Evansville, Indiana and a full-time firefighter in Providence, Kentucky. You can follow him on Twitter @FireSafetyAZ If you enjoyed this article leave a comment or click subscribe above to receive notification of future stories. Read a previous Fire Safety article: Using your emergency power source safely

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