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Carbon monoxide: A warning about the silent killer ahead of snowstorm

El Paso County Coroner says carbon monoxide deaths increased this winter
Carbon monoxide: A warning about the silent killer ahead of snowstorm
Posted at 1:12 AM, Mar 12, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-12 13:50:47-05

SOUTHERN COLORADO — As a winter storm heads toward Southern Colorado, there are the threats we can see, and those we cannot. The combination of the two can be deadly.

Of course, obvious hazards are road conditions during winter weather. Captain John Lupton, the troop commander for the Colorado State Patrol out of El Paso County, said there will likely be closures of I-25 this weekend and he does not recommend people try to use other less traveled roads. "Plan ahead, and just stay home and hunker down during this storm, because it puts the first responders at risk having to come out and look for people who choose to continue to drive, even after the roads and the highways are closed," said Captain Lupton.

The second anniversary of the bomb cyclone in Southern Colorado is approaching, which also marks the day CSP lost one of their own. Corporal Daniel Groves was trying to help a driver who had slid off the road, when another vehicle struck and killed him near Roggen.

Captain Lupton hopes before people try to brave the weather this weekend, they think of the first responders who will have to be on the road. "Be part of the solution and keep all your first responders safe by not having to come rescue you and your family for lack of planning," said Captain Lupton.

Any time the weather gets cold, the Colorado Springs Fire Department sees an increase in calls related to carbon monoxide. "Carbon monoxide does have high risks because it's odorless, it's colorless, you just don't know," said Kathy Hook, the fire and life safety educator with CSFD.

Ideally, those carbon monoxide leaks are noticed through alarms. However, the El Paso County Coroner Dr. Leon Kelly said they have seen an increase in deaths related to carbon monoxide poisoning this winter. "This year, I think in particular, we've had more than we typically do over this winter. I've had three carbon monoxide cases over the last couple months," said Dr. Kelly.

Dr. Kelly went on to say all three of the deaths were related to inappropriately using a heating device indoors, like a generator or furnace. "With very few exceptions, if that product makes a flame, it's not safe to use indoors," said Dr. Kelly.

Both Dr. Kelly and Hook referenced the recent storms in Texas which knocked out power for countless residents. "When the Texas area was having their cold spell, there was a family who had all the electricity go out, and they decided to cook using their charcoal grill in the house, and actually that family perished. So, charcoal grills do not belong in the house, they belong outside," said Hook.

But carbon monoxide can strike outside the home, too. "Potentially, people being stuck in their cars. So, unfortunately there have been some incidences, even deaths, where if that snow is not moved away from the exhaust pipe and someone is waiting for a rescue or stuck in their car, that there have been incidences of carbon monoxide poisoning within the car... Make sure that exhaust pipe is clear, and that you're not running it constantly. Make sure someone stays awake at all times. The symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are dizziness, drowsiness, so be it in your home or in your car, you're going to want to go doze off, and that's a really dangerous time if there's a carbon monoxide leak," said Hook.

If a person is stranded on the side of the road during a snowstorm, the best way to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning is to turn off the car. "Do you have coats? Do you have first aid kits? Do you have emergency rations? Do you have a water bottle? Do you have blankets? The things you need in case things go badly... Having things where you aren't dependent on the car running to keep you warm is the best plan because we don't know how fast it's going to pile up, how quickly you might be succumbed to carbon monoxide poisoning," said Captain Lupton.

In addition, wet and heavy snow can block exhaust vents for furnaces, and it's important to find a way to keep snow cleared from those areas as well.

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