Harsh Winter Results in Large CO Poisoning Spike

A sharp spike in carbon monoxide poisonings in Philadelphia this year has fire officials reminding homeowners to make sure their heating systems are properly maintained.

Philadelphia Fire Capt. Clifford Gilliam says in just the first three months of 2014 the number of carbon monoxide incidents jumped 75 percent over the year before. There were 89 CO incidents from Jan. 1 through Mar. 15, 2014 and 51 in the same period of 2013, he said.

Fifteen people were injured in CO incidents this year, while only three people were hurt the year before, according to Gilliam.

While injuries and incidents were up year over year, no one has died this year from carbon monoxide poisoning. Three people were killed in 2013 from these incidents, Gilliam said.

Gilliam says fire officials believe the very cold and long winter has contributed to the increase in poisonings. He says homeowners need to be vigilant about making sure they have their heating systems cleaned and maintained.

“A majority of the incidents stem from improperly maintained home heating systems and by that we mean the heater, the flute, all of the components of the heating system,” he said. “If you see it’s rusting, that’s a sign you need to have it serviced. If you’re looking around the bottom of the heater and you’re seeing that carbon buildup, that’s a sign your system needs to be serviced.”

The captain also warned not to use grills, charcoal or gas, kerosene heaters or generators inside a house or enclosed garage. Gilliam made the reminder as part of Poison Prevention Week, which ran through Saturday.

Being that carbon monoxide is colorless, odorless and tasteless, fire officials say it’s also important to have a CO detectors in a home. City law requires a carbon monoxide detector be installed within 15 feet of every sleeping area in a house. A state law will soon go into effect requiring the same rules for apartment buildings, Gilliam said.

“Sometimes the symptoms are not easily recognized. [The residents] are sitting a home with a headache, feeling lightheaded, but having a CO alarm is an early warning,” he said.

The Philadelphia Fire Department has a limited number of CO alarms available to the public, the captain said.

Contact Vince Lattanzio at 610.668.5532, vince.lattanzio@nbcuni.com or follow @VinceLattanzio on Twitter.

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