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    A portable CO detector can help an EMS professional more effectively diagnose a patient. If a patient is complaining of headache, nausea or dizziness, it may be difficult to determine what is causing the patient to be ill. However, if an elevated CO level is found in the home, the EMS professional may be able to more quickly attribute the condition to CO exposure allowing them to take quicker action as well as ensure their own safety while on the job.

    Carbon Monoxide (CO) is both odorless and colorless and can be toxic when exposed to it. CO is formed from the incomplete combustion of Carbon. Sources of CO production include vehicles, gasoline engines, gas-powered tools, the burning of charcoal and wood, and poorly vented chimneys. CO Poisoning is the most common type of gas poisoning.

    Emergency Calls

    Carbon monoxide (CO) alarms in the home can result in some of the most challenging 911 calls in the fire and emergency medical services profession. This is partially due to the fact that CO is colorless and odorless, and it is not easily identifiable without a CO measuring device. According to the CDC, 430 people die and approximately 50,000 people visit the emergency room each year due to accidental CO poisoning.

    Having the right tools is critical to identifying potential CO leaks in the patients' homes as well as protecting the EMS professional.

    Types of Emergency Calls

    Most Common - The occupants meet the EMS professional at the door, stating that their CO detector went off. They may exhibit mild symptoms of CO poisoning and there may be low levels of CO present in the household.

    Most Dangerous - the occupants of the household are showing severe symptoms of CO poisoning, or even worse, may be non-responsive or unconscious. This is a rescue/recovery situation for the patient and also poses an immediate threat to the emergency personnel.

    False Alarm - The occupants report the CO detector went off. Upon investigation by the EMS personnel, they determine the home CO detector is either faulty or needs a new battery. With a portable CO meter, the EMS personnel can assess the situation quickly and determine if CO is present or not.

    Facts about CO

    • Most burning materials will produce some CO, especially with common sources of incomplete combustion. These can include improperly vented boilers and furnaces, hot water heaters, improperly functioning gas stoves or a car running in the garage.
    • CO is 97% as dense as air but it will still get pushed around by air currents in the residence mixing together.
    • When inhaled, CO rapidly binds with red blood cells and interferes with the ability of blood to transport oxygen to all the cells in the body. Reduced oxygen levels result in headaches, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, fatigue, and potentially loss of consciousness and death.

    Inside the Numbers

    What do the numbers on a CO measuring device indicate? A reading of 0-2 ppm is considered a background level. Levels greater than 5 PPM can cause long-term effects with increased exposure. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) considers 35 PPM to be an 8-hour TWA limit.

    EMS worker driving an ambulance

    Readings from 9-100 PPM require first responders to make informed decisions based on symptoms and conditions present on scene. However, long-term exposure to continuous levels of 9ppm or less may still affect certain individuals especially those with existing medical conditions.

    Reading of 9 PPM or Less

    • Readings of 9ppm or less are not considered to be elevated and may be within the normal range when running certain gas and/or fuel burning equipment and appliances.
    • If a home CO detector is alarming at lower levels of CO, the detector may need to be replaced or maintained per manufacturers recommendations.

    Reading of 35 PPM or Greater:

    • Inform the occupants that there is a potentially lethal level of CO present.
    • Recommend that all occupants leave the premises and begin ventilation of the residence. If it is determined that an appliance is malfunctioning and producing CO, it will be shut down. Once the area has been reduced to a safe level of CO, the occupants can resume occupancy, at their own discretion. An attempt will be made to reset the CO detector. Occupants will be instructed to call 911 if the detector activates again.