Thursday, December 30, 2010


Avoid tragedy by installing carbon monoxide detectors

We’ve all seen the deadly impact of carbon monoxide poisoning in the news recently.

Unfortunately, I have also seen the devastation firsthand.

I’ve been a Paramedic since 1983, and one emergency call stands out above all others as being my worst call ever.

It was the morning on Nov. 11, 1993 — Veteran’s Day to be exact.

I was a Fire Captain/Paramedic at the Bradley Int’l Airport Fire Department in Windsor Locks and we routinely provided paramedic service to the surrounding communities.

This morning, we were dispatched to an address in Suffield for a carbon monoxide exposure. When we arrived there were a total of seven people poisoned overnight while they slept by carbon monoxide — a colorless, odorless gas which is one of the reasons that it is so deadly. You don’t know that it’s there.

Three of the victims between the ages of 12-13 years old — including one child that was a friend of the family — were in cardiac arrest.

Despite vigorous attempts to resuscitate them, they did die, as did their family dogs. It’s a scene that I’ll never forget, and one that I can easily visualize 17 years later.

What began as a sleepover in a finished basement resulted in a horrific outcome for two families, as well as a community.

When examined at the hospital after the call, I too had an elevated level of carbon monoxide, but required no medical treatment other than fresh air.

Carbon monoxide has a 200 times higher affinity than oxygen to attach to your red blood cells. Therefore the carbon monoxide saturates the red blood cells leaving no room for oxygen.

Carbon monoxide poisoning symptoms, which are very similar to flu symptoms, are usually caused by heaters, furnaces, gas grills and other devices indoors. They usually involve more than one person and can include:

• Headache





Chest pain


Anyone experiencing these symptoms should get outdoors for fresh air and call 911.

Meters to accurately measure the amount of carbon monoxide inside a home are carried by all fire departments, whose members are also trained how and where to obtain samples.

But many times that is too late, which makes it so important for everyone to install carbon monoxide detectors on all levels of their home, especially near sleeping areas. It could be the best investment you ever make in your life.

Fred Potter, Coordinator of Emergency Medical Services at The William W. Backus Hospital, is a longtime firefighter and paramedic. If you want to comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Mr. Potter or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

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