Firefighter’s clip-on carbon monoxide detectors saving lives

By: Brian Louwers | Warren Weekly | Published September 3, 2020

 BW Technologies single-gas carbon monoxide detectors have alerted Warren firefighters to unseen danger on three occasions since they were purchased and deployed earlier this year.

BW Technologies single-gas carbon monoxide detectors have alerted Warren firefighters to unseen danger on three occasions since they were purchased and deployed earlier this year.

Photo by Brian Louwers


WARREN — On Aug. 8, Warren firefighter paramedics were dispatched to a home on Patricia Avenue, where a father and son were found unconscious. They’d been working in the basement, using a gas-powered saw to cut cement.

The caller didn’t know what happened to them, and the medics didn’t know what kind of an emergency they were walking into when they arrived. But a handy gadget that’s smaller than a hand-held radio and clipped to their equipment bag told them almost immediately.

The device detected carbon monoxide at 600 parts per million, more than six times the lethal level. The victims were knocked out by the invisible and odorless gas, but they were saved by first responders who, thanks to the detector, knew what they were dealing with.

“As they were walking down the stairs, the detector alerted them. They immediately backed out,” Warren Fire Department Special Operations Chief Ted Garwood said. “If that monitor wouldn’t have went off, our guys would have been in that environment, and they would have been the next ones to go down.”

Garwood said it was the third time this year that the BW Technologies single-gas carbon monoxide detectors alerted Warren firefighters to unseen danger. There was another incident involving gas-powered tools indoors. On another occasion, a worker collapsed on a forklift and other employees had no idea what happened to him.

“Our guys went in there and thought maybe he fell off or had a heart attack. As they got in the building, they were walking up and the monitor went off,” Garwood said. One of the machines was apparently emitting carbon monoxide, just enough to adversely affect the operator.

Garwood said firefighters do have equipment capable of monitoring four separate gases but that the devices need to be calibrated and are generally used deliberately, when the presence of gas is immediately suspected or possible.

The Warren Fire Department purchased a dozen clip-on detectors for $179 each and began using them in January. They have a lifespan of two years and go anywhere the medic bag goes with the firefighters.

“We’ve got three saves now,” Warren Fire Chief Tim Morgan said.

Warren Fire Commissioner Skip McAdams said the detectors, for the price, have really paid off.

“As we enter these structures to render aid, this provides us a passive level of protection that is always working for us and alerts us to a gas we can’t see, smell, touch or hear,” McAdams said. “For us, it’s just an extra way to provide a level of safety for our firefighters.”

By quickly alerting paramedics to a potential carbon monoxide issue, the devices also expedite the care of those in need at the scene.

“Carbon monoxide poisoning mimics other illnesses, and with that monitor, it helps us identify what the problem is and to begin treatment immediately,” McAdams added. “We can get them out of there and get them on high-flow oxygen immediately. It’s both a protective tool and a diagnostic tool.”

What is carbon monoxide (CO)?
According to information compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Environmental Health, carbon monoxide (CO) is found in fumes produced when fuel is burned to power things including vehicles, stoves, lanterns, grills, generators, fireplaces and furnaces. The colorless, odorless gas can build up indoors and poison people and animals by displacing oxygen in the bloodstream, thus making oxygen unavailable to the body’s vital organs.

Symptoms of CO poisoning include headache, dizziness, weakness, upset stomach, vomiting, chest pain and confusion. It can lead to a loss of consciousness and death. People who are asleep or intoxicated are at particular risk of dying without noticing any symptoms.

CO poisoning not related to structure fires results in 400 deaths annually in the U.S., more than 20,000 emergency room visits and more than 4,000 hospitalizations.

Firefighters and health professionals recommend installing a battery-operated CO detector in every home. Batteries should be changed on a schedule with seasonal time changes. That’s also a good time to change the batteries in any interior smoke detectors.

Regular inspection of home heating systems, water heaters and any other gas, oil or coal-burning appliances is recommended. It’s best to have them serviced annually by a professional.