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Be prepared for CO, no matter the season or location

Carbon monoxide incidents are not restricted to cold climates in the deep winter months.

Editor’s Note: Chief Adam K. Thiel cautions us to be prepared for high levels of carbon monoxide regardless of the season or geographic location.

This tragedy in Maryland highlights the dangers posed by carbon monoxide (CO) year-round, and across the United States.

While we often associate carbon monoxide poisoning with the colder states and deep winter months, this story illustrates the fact that CO can kill anytime, anywhere.

Many years ago, while assigned to a heavy rescue company, I ran a CO call in a residence that didn’t have any fossil-fuel-burning appliances. We were getting high readings on our atmospheric monitoring devices, and eventually traced the source to a burned-up rubber belt in an air conditioning blower. The incomplete combustion from even that minor fuel load was enough to liberate dangerous quantities of CO in the small, ventilation-limited apartment space.

From a prevention standpoint, we need to continue educating our citizens about the dangers of CO; the value of having regular checks performed on their appliances and HVAC systems; and the importance of placing CO and smoke alarms in their homes and businesses.

Response-wise, we need to ensure our firefighters and medics have the training, PPE and monitoring equipment they need to effectively address these incidents 24/7/365.

Stay safe!

Adam K. Thiel is the fire commissioner and director of the Office of Emergency Management in the city of Philadelphia. Thiel previously served as a fire chief in the National Capital Region and as a state fire director for the Commonwealth of Virginia. Thiel’s operational experience includes serving with distinction in four states as a chief officer, incident commander, company officer, hazardous materials team leader, paramedic, technical rescuer, structural/wildland firefighter and rescue diver. He also directly participated in response and recovery efforts for several major disasters, including the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Tropical Storm Gaston and Hurricane Isabel.