Recently on Long Island, N.Y., Justin Gau and Kyle Page, both emergency medical technicians (EMTs), were walking to their table in a local Applebee’s restaurant when they noticed their portable carbon monoxide (CO) detectors going off.
“I made Justin go outside once or twice to reset it to make sure it was functioning before we screwed up everyone’s evening,” Page told local news station ABC 7.
However, the detection of CO proved not to be a fluke and the EMTs jumped into action. Nearly 100 Applebee’s customers and employees were immediately evacuated from the scene and despite some claiming to have felt sick following the incident, none requested further treatment.
A faulty water heater was later discovered to be the root cause of the far above average CO levels within the establishment. Most homes featuring a properly adjusted gas stove may see carbon monoxide levels at around 15 ppm, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The evacuated Applebee’s was experiencing CO levels between 80 ppm to 250 ppm, which is high enough to cause both serious injury and death.
“After they closed up, they shut down the ventilation system and the CO could have been pumping in there all night and whoever opened in the morning could have been a bad turn out,” Page told ABC7.
Known the “Invisible Killer,” CO appears when carbon-based fuels, including gasoline, natural gas, oil, charcoal or wood, are burned without enough oxygen present. This can cause the deadly fumes to accumulate in spaces, poisoning any people or animals nearby. Accidental CO poisoning takes the lives of more than 400 citizens annually. Many times, CO poisoning occurs as a result of power outages from hurricanes and winter storms when fuel is used in an enclosed area to run a portable generator or other device.
Considering that there is no real way to detect amounts of CO without the use of modern technology, a CO detector is important. If the two EMTs had not been wearing their CO detectors when they entered the restaurant, the story could have altered tremendously. There are many different types of CO detectors that measure the quantity of CO in different ways:
* Biomimetic CO detectors have a special gel that changes color as it absorbs CO molecules – an effect that also occurs when blood is exposed to CO. When a sensor detects the color change in the gel, it sounds the device’s alarm.
* Metal oxide semiconductor sensors uses a silica chip to determine if CO is in the air. If CO comes into contact with the sensor’s circuitry, the electrical resistance is lowered and will cause the sensor to sound. Considering the amount of electricity semiconductors use, these devices are typically plugged into wall outlets rather than using batteries.
* Lastly, electrochemical sensors utilize changes in electrical currents to sniff out CO molecules. Unlike the chip that a semiconductor uses, the electrochemical sensors use electrodes within a chemical solution that are sensitive to changes in the electrical currents.
Symptoms of CO poisoning can range from headache, dizziness, nausea and chest pain to loss of consciousness, sometimes resulting in death. However, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) there are a number of ways to prevent CO poisoning from occurring:
* Never use a gas range or oven to heat a home.
* Never leave the motor running in a vehicle parked in an enclosed or partially enclosed space, such as a garage.
* Never run a motor vehicle, generator, pressure washer, or any gasoline-powered engine outside an open window, door, or vent where exhaust can vent into an enclosed area.
* Never run a generator, pressure washer, or any gasoline-powered engine inside a basement, garage, or other enclosed structure, even if the doors or windows are open, unless the equipment is professionally installed and vented. Keep vents and flues free of debris, especially if winds are high.
* Never use a charcoal grill, hibachi, lantern, or portable camping stove inside a home, tent, or camper.
If you believe that you or a loved one is experiencing CO poisoning, immediately call your local Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222.