"In 1994, fire departments all over the country were struggling
with a new type of response: the home carbon monoxide alarm. Personnel
had little experience with these alarms, and virtually no one knew
how they worked. In fact, many departments initially treated them
just like smoke alarms. Called to a home, responders would often
enter and, finding no apparent problem, declare the incident to
be the result of a defective alarm, then simply leave. Over time,
they realized that there was more to this type of alarm than was
apparent at first glance. My experience with them was similar, as
evidenced by the following incident.
We responded to a call for a smoke detector sounding in a private
home. It was not an uncommon occurrence. We regularly went to tow
or three of these a tour. Mostly they were unwarranted or the result
of friendly fire, such as cooking or smoking. Often the units would
be defective. This one, however turned out to be a CO detector.
The truck officer, already inside the building, contacted me on
his portable radio. He said, "Chief, it's a carbon monoxide
detector, and it won't stop alarming. There doesn't seem to be a
problem in the house. It must be defective.
I instructed him to bring the detector outside and to wave it in
the fresh air to see whether it would reset. When it didn't, I told
him to remove the battery. He said he couldn't find it, but then,
after a brief pause , told me he thought he'd found it, and he brought
the unit over. This was the first time that I had seen a home carbon
Removing the battery pack stopped the alarm. I had the officer replace
the battery pack to see whether removing it had reset the detector.
The alarm started to sound again right there in the street.
"You're right," I agreed. "It must be defective."
Uncomfortable with that decision, I directed the officer to check
the occupants for symptoms of CO poisoning. They exhibited none.
We then told the homeowner that the unit was defective, and we left
Fortunately, that was the end of the incident. I say fortunately,
because at the time we were all woefully ignorant of CO detectors
and how they worked, as well as of the dangers of carbon monoxide
in the home."
Chapter nine discusses my search for an appropriate
response protocol for carbon monoxide alarms and a discussion of
the new CO problem in which I briefly describe the various agencies
involved in coming up with a solution to the problem.