As northeastern Pennsylvania heads into the coldest months of winter, with the threat of heavy snow and ice storms knocking out power, the danger of carbon monoxide poisoning rises as people fire up heaters and generators.
The appliances generate the colorless, odorless gas that can be deadly if inhaled.
In October 2012, an Albrightsville man died and other family members sickened after a generator in an attached garage leaked carbon monoxide fumes into their house.
Keeping generators outside, and properly maintaining and operating coal, gas or wood stoves can prevent carbon monoxide from leaking into rooms. But carbon monoxide detectors are the best insurance against the deadly gas.
On Dec. 18, Gov. Tom Corbett signed legislation that requires carbon monoxide detectors to be installed in homes that burn fossil fuels coal, oil or gas for heat, or that have an attached garage.
The law also requires a seller to tell a potential buyer about the installation of detectors. The bill was sponsored by state Sen. Pat Browne, R-16, and co-sponsored by Sen. David G. Argall R-29.
"Many of us know local people who have tragically lost their lives due to carbon monoxide poisoning. Many of these tragedies could be avoided with a simple carbon monoxide detector, which is why I supported this legislation and made it a priority for the committee I chair in the Senate," said Argall, who chairs the Senate Urban Affairs and Housing Committee.
Each year, carbon monoxide poisoning kills more than 400 people each year in the United States, and sends another 20,000 to emergency rooms, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The gas is not only hazardous for people inside a home; it also endangers rescue workers.
On Dec. 30, the Eastern PA EMS Council announced that it has begun to outfit EMS units in Berks, Carbon, Lehigh, Monroe, Northampton and Schuylkill counties with portable and highly sophisticated carbon monoxide detectors.
The EMS Council bought pager-sized CO detectors for over 400 EMS units that respond to emergency 911 requests.
"These highly sophisticated devices are carried into homes, businesses and other locations during the course of the emergency response and have become a standardized item in the cache of tools carried by responding EMS professionals," the council said in a press release.
The detectors are designed to recognize very low levels of the gas, and to alert carriers via audio and digital alarms.
"If it activates, you evacuate. This message clearly defines the dangers associated with the gas and the need for both patient and EMS to expeditiously remove themselves from the danger," said the council's executive director, John Kloss.
Steve Ohl, president of R.F. Ohl Fuel Oil, advises people to install carbon monoxide detectors in their homes.
The devices cost about $25 at most hardware and general merchandise stores, and are easily installed.
"CO detectors should be in every home, regardless of the main heating source," Ohl said. "You never know if something your neighbor is doing is affecting your home, particularly if you live in a row home. The cost is minimal, compared to your life."
Ohl recommends people visit www.carbonmonoxidedetectorplacement.com to determine where to install the devices.
"At a minimum, I would recommend CO detectors on every floor of your house, including the basement," he said.
Experts advise placing the detectors on walls, a couple of feet from the ceiling. Avoid placing them within 15 feet of fossil-fuel burning stoves or heaters, in bathrooms or in direct sunlight.