How I became living proof that carbon monoxide poisoning can happen to anyone, any time

As the Safe Kids Wisconsin coordinator, I teach children and families how to prevent carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning, and I provide CO alarms to homes with children. I tell families to have furnaces, water heaters and other fuel-burning items serviced on a regular basis to make sure they are working properly. Statistics show an increase in CO poisonings in the colder months. However, CO leaks can happen any time of the year — as I found out firsthand.

I awoke to the CO alarm going off in the middle of the night. My first thought was that the alarm was warning it needed to be replaced. This particular CO alarm was approaching the end of its recommended lifespan. I replaced the alarm with another from a different location within our house. We were good, no more alarms went off … at least for the time being. Then, about 10 hours later the alarm went off again. I knew it was no longer a warning to replace. I called the gas company to investigate. Upon their arrival, a second alarm in the house began to sound. They immediately found elevated levels of CO in the house and eventually linked it to our water heater in the basement. The water heater was disconnected until a plumber could determine the exact issue. It was less than a year old, but had a tiny amount of buildup on the pilot light.

After a visit to the emergency room and oxygen treatment for myself and two young children, I can be thankful I had more alarms than the law requires. Most homes need to have one CO alarm on each floor of the house. I’m living proof that CO leaks can happen — even with proper maintenance of appliances. I’m also living proof that the CO alarm is the only way to know if there is a leak in the house.

For more information about carbon monoxide or the requirements for carbon monoxide alarms in Wisconsin, visit home safety resources on www.safekidswi.org.

~ Libbe Slavin, coordinator, Safe Kids Wisconsin

A member of Safe Kids Worldwide, Safe Kids Wisconsin works to prevent accidental injuries, the leading cause of death among children 14 years of age and younger. The coalition combines the expertise of Safe Kids coalitions and chapters statewide to prevent childhood injuries through collaboration, education, policy and advocacy initiatives. Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin is its lead agency.

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