Chapter 9

Carbon Monoxide
The New Response

"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 monoxide detector.
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 the scene.
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.

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