Carbon monoxide, sometimes referred to as CO, is a colorless, odorless gas produced by burning material containing carbon. Carbon monoxide poisoning can cause brain damage and death. A fact most people don't realize -- carbon monoxide can kill you.
Why is this important? Because it's winter in Minnesota and that means local rescue units and ambulance services will go out on calls regarding this extremely dangerous and life threatening problem.
Carbon monoxide is the leading cause of accidental poisoning deaths in America. This odorless, tasteless, and colorless gas is known as the silent killer. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that carbon monoxide poisoning claims nearly 500 lives, and causes more than 15,000 visits to hospital emergency departments annually.
Just last week, five young men died in Florida as a result of carbon monoxide poisoning.
Carbon monoxide is formed when organic compounds burn. The most common sources are motor vehicle exhaust, smoke from fires, engine fumes, and nonelectric heaters. Carbon monoxide poisoning is often associated with malfunctioning or obstructed exhaust systems and with suicide attempts.
Sources of carbon monoxide include gas water heaters, kerosene space heaters, charcoal grills, propane heaters and stoves, gasoline and diesel powered generators, cigarette smoke, jet skis, any boat with an engine, spray paint, solvents, degreasers and paint removers, just to name a few.
Low levels of carbon monoxide poisoning can be confused with flu symptoms, food poisoning or other illnesses and can have a long term health risk if left unattended.
Some of the symptoms are shortness of breath, mild nausea and mild headaches. Moderate levels of CO exposure can cause death if the following symptoms persist for a long measure of time. These symptons can include headaches, dizziness, nausea and light-headedness. High levels of CO can be fatal causing death within minutes.
Not only are families at risk for this type of poisoning, so are emergency personnel who respond to these calls.
Thanks to grant money and fundraisers, the Blackduck Ambulance now has two Masimo Rad-57 carbon monoxide detectors.
These new detectors are quick and easy-to-use, requires no user calibration and does not require patient cooperation or consciousness.
According to Molly Rucinski, manager of the Blackduck Ambulance Service, these devices will help establish quicker diagnosis of CO poisoning.
"We see more and more of these types of calls each year," said Rucinski. "Due to the demand for new houses which are built better and tighter than ever. Fish houses have also become better built and therefore, the potential for CO poisoning is greater."
This technology will be a valuable tool in monitoring the safety of emergency crews, while providing instant analysis of victims at the scene, Rucinski explained.
"We now have the technology to immediately diagnose a potentially fatal exposure and begin immediate treatment. This will help us save lives." Rucinski said.
Something everyone can do to prevent this from happening is to be sure and check your furnace each year and when warming up your car, back it out of the garage.
The ambulance service also received new power cots, purchased with grant money and fundraiser funds.
These cots are hydraulic and battery powered, reducing the risk of injuries to EMS personnel.
They are also better for the patients, Rucinski explained as they allow a smoother lift both up and down.
"We risk serious injuries to ourselves with the kind of lifting we have to do," she said. "These power cots make our job easier."
Fundraising for this new equipment began last year with a dinner at the American Legion in Blackduck, a fish fry up in Waskish, a breakfast in Northome as well as a gun raffle this past summer.