Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Prevention

 Carbon Monoxide - DANGER

Carbon Monoxide (CO) is the leading cause of accidental poisoning deaths in America, claiming more than 500 lives each year.  CO is an odorless, tasteless and invisible gas that can lead to brain damage and even death.

Known as 'The Silent Killer', CO is produced whenever fuel such as gas, oil, kerosene, wood or charcoal is burned - and can be produced by common household appliances. 


Sources of CO Poisoning can Include:

  • Gas water heatersCarbon Monoxide - Sources
  • Home heating systems
  • Kerosene space heaters
  • Grills, hibachis or portable gas camp stoves
  • Idling motor vehicles
  • Cigarette smoke
  • Propane-fueled forklifts
  • Gas-powered concrete saws
  • Indoor tractor pulls
  • Swimming behind a motorboat
  • Spray paint, solvents, degreasers and paint removers

 Carbon Monoxide - Binding with Oxygen

How does Carbon Monoxide Kill?

Red blood cells pick up CO quicker than they pick up oxygen.  If there is a lot of CO in the air, the CO blocks oxygen from getting into the body, which can damage tissues and result in death. 

All people and animals are at risk for CO poisoning.  Certain groups — unborn babies, infants, and people with chronic heart disease, anemia, or respiratory problems — are more susceptible to its effects.

The symptoms of Carbon Monoxide poisoning can mimic the flu, and you may not be inclined to think of CO poisoning.  At a low level exposure, shortness of breath, nausea and headaches are common.  At a moderate level, victims experience more severe headaches, dizziness and confusion, and often become nauseated or may faint.  The longer the exposure to CO, the greater the chance of death.


If You Think You Have Been Exposed to Carbon Monoxide:

  • Move quickly to fresh air, away from the suspected source of exposure.
  • Seek medical care in a hospital emergency department or contact your doctor.
  • If severe, life-threatening symptoms are present, call 9-1-1.


What Can You do to Protect Yourself?

  • Never use a grille or any type of barbecue indoors.
  • Never burn any type of charcoal indoors.
  • Have a certified technician service your home heating system each year.
  • Be careful with generators.
  • Do not allow your vehicle to idle in an enclosed space or near a door or window to your home.
  • Get a Carbon Monoxide Detector.

Though Carbon Monoxide Detectors are widely available, preventing CO from becoming a problem in your home is better than relying on an alarm.  Do some research on detector features and don’t select solely on the basis of cost.  For safety sake, follow the DO’s and DON’Ts listed above.  For questions regarding CO detection and CO poisoning prevention, contact the SFFD Bureau of Fire Prevention at: (415) 558-3300.


For Additional Information about Carbon Monoxide: