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What is Carbon Monoxide and how is it produced?

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a deadly, colorless, odorless, poisonous gas. It is produced by the incomplete burning of various fuels, including coal, wood, charcoal, oil, kerosene, propane, and natural gas. Products and equipment powered by internal combustion engine-powered equipment such as portable generators, cars, lawn mowers, and power washers also produce CO.

Responding to suspected Carbon Monoxide incidents is a common occurance for the Bridgeport Fire Department. Many times when CO is found it is the result of malfunctioning furnaces or improperly vented water heaters. Other situations that have been found are improperly vented gas cooking stoves used in basements. Remember your basement does not have the air movement that you may typically find on the ground floor. Carbon Monoxide can build very quickly within an enclosed space.

Symptoms of CO Poisoning

Because CO is odorless, colorless, and otherwise undetectable to the human senses, people may not know that they are being exposed. The initial symptoms of low to moderate CO poisoning are similar to the flu (but without the fever). They include:

  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness

High level CO poisoning results in progressively more severe symptoms, including:

  • Mental confusion
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of muscular coordination
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Ultimately death

Symptom severity is related to both the CO level and the duration of exposure. For slowly developing residential CO problems, occupants and/or physicians can mistake mild to moderate CO poisoning symptoms for the flu, which sometimes results in tragic deaths. If your symptoms seem to lessen each time you are away from home and then worsen when you return, you may want to consider a possible exposure to CO.

For rapidly developing, high level CO exposures (e.g., associated with use of generators in residential spaces), victims can rapidly become mentally confused, and can lose muscle control without having first experienced milder symptoms; they will likely die if not rescued. At high concentrations this can occur in minutes rather than hours. Get all occupants outside immediately then call 911!

Carbon Monoxide Detectors


There are many brands and models of CO detectors on the market today. Some detectors have digital displays that will actually list the amount of Carbon Monoxide present. This is a great option but will cost much more than a basic model. There are even combination smoke and carbon monoxide detectors available.

You can click on these manufacturer names to visit their websites for additional details.

Kidde , makers of the Night Hawk series carbon monoxide detectors.

First Alert , another big name in home safety appliances.

Detector Placement and Maintenance

Unlike smoke detectors, stand alone CO detectors do not have to be placed high on a wall or ceiling. There are many models that plug into your electrical outlet. Carbon monoxide weighs approimately the same as air so it may be present anywhere floor to ceiling.

Of course if you purchase a combination smoke detector/CO alarm, you should follow the guidelines to mount high as possible for the best smoke detection.

Please read the manufacturer's documentation that accompanies your detector for proper installation, alarm activations and maintenance. It will also list the recommended life expectancy of the detector which is typically between 4 to 7 years.

Malfunctioning detectors that are older than the recommended life is a common occurrence.