CARBON MONOXIDE DANGERS DURING SHABBAT
L'Shanah Tovah! The Officers and Firefighters of the Englewood Fire Department extend our wishes for safe and prosperous New Year. It is with safety in mind that we are reaching out to you. We recently learned that our colleagues in Teaneck noticed a trend indicating an increase in Carbon Monoxide incidents within the Orthodox community. After analyzing our own data, we saw a similar trend seemingly indicating a strong correlation between carbon monoxide emergencies and observance of certain holidays and the Sabbath.
The danger of Carbon Monoxide (CO) poisoning is a concern which crosses all cultures and faiths, but because of some specific practices that are unique to the observant Jewish Community, there is an elevated risk.
We understand that Shabbat is a time where individuals and families can put aside the week’s worries, and concerns, to rest and reflect. It is not the intention of the Englewood Fire Department to impede any citizen’s religious observances or centuries of tradition. Our only desire is to see to the safety of our friends and neighbors, and reassure them that, by following a few common sense precautions, emergencies involving carbon monoxide can be one less worry to carry into Shabbat. Please continue reading below to learn more about carbon monoxide, its hazards, and ways to lessen the danger:
What is Carbon Monoxide?
Carbon monoxide, also known as “CO”, is an odorless, colorless and toxic gas. Though flammable at high levels, the primary danger of CO is its toxicity. As we often receive calls from residents reporting that they, “smell carbon monoxide”, we cannot emphasize this point enough…just because you don’t detect an odor, doesn’t mean you’re not in danger! You can’t see, taste, or smell the toxic fumes…CO can injure or kill you before you realize that it is in your home!
How Does Carbon Monoxide Harm the Body?
As stated earlier, carbon monoxide is toxic, as it prevents the body from properly processing oxygen. In simple terms, red blood cells (RBC) have a greater affinity for carbon monoxide than oxygen. Once the CO molecule has attached itself to the cell, there’s no room for oxygen. As a result, CO is transported throughout the body, and not the oxygen necessary for our survival. The effect of exposure to CO varies greatly from person to person; age, overall health and the concentration and length of exposure all play a role in how your body will react. For severe cases of carbon monoxide poisoning, medical personnel can treat a patient with the use of a Hyperbaric Chamber where, under high atmospheric pressure, oxygen is introduced to the patient, and the CO molecule is “pushed” off the cell. In Englewood we are fortunate to have one of these chambers nearby, as Englewood Hospital and Medical Center is one of only a few locations in New Jersey having such a device.
Carbon Monoxide Sources in and Around the Home.
There are several sources where CO can be generated, charcoal grills, wood-burning furnaces or fireplaces, motor vehicles, and gas-fired tools and appliances. As it relates to Shabbat, this last item is our chief concerns. There is an elevated risk for those homes with gas cooking appliances left on over Shabbat, or for extended periods of time. For this reason it is vital to ensure your home has properly-installed, and working, carbon monoxide detectors.
How Do I Recognize the Danger Signs?
While CO poisoning can affect anyone, unborn babies, infants, children, senior citizens and people with heart or lung problems are at particular risk. Prevention is the number one way to avoid CO emergencies. If you cannot avoid generating CO, the key to your safety lay in recognizing the danger signs. At low levels, CO can cause shortness of breath, mild nausea, and mild headaches, symptoms that can mimic the flu, food poisoning or other illnesses. At moderate levels, you may experience severe headaches, become dizzy, mentally confused, nauseated, or faint. For some, the skin may also take on a flushed, bright-red appearance.
How Do I Protect Myself and My Family?
- At a minimum, ensure that you have installed at least one UL-listed, working CO Detector. This detector should be placed outside the bedroom or sleeping areas. Ideally, you should have at least one detector on every level of the home. If hard-wired, ensure that there is a battery back-up, and have at least one battery operated CO detector outside the sleeping areas/bedrooms. Batteries should be changed at least twice a year.
- If you have children, let them hear the sound of the alarm, teach them what to do when the alarm goes off. Recent studies have shown that some children are sleeping through alarms or are unsure what to do when they hear an alarm. Just like a fire drill, practice with your family what they need to do. The time to prepare for an emergency is before it occurs.
- Keep a window open, two if possible, ensuring they are opposite of one another. The airflow caused by cross-ventilation will help draw some of the gas out of the house. If concerned about security, there are devices that can limit how far the window can open. If using a window stop, for safety, please do not install on a bedroom window.
- Have a qualified professional check all fuel burning appliances, furnaces, venting and chimney systems at least once a year.
- Never run a car or gas-powered tool in an enclosed space, such as a garage….even if the door is open. Automobiles generate too much CO for natural ventilation to work in this case.
- IF IN DOUBT…CALL THE FIRE DEPARTMENT!
What Should I Do If I Have a Problem?
There are suggested, certain steps to follow if you have a problem, or think you have a problem involving CO exposure. For those observing Halakha, we have modified, slightly, these steps to balance your safety with the requirements of your spiritual life.
If your alarm goes off, and no one is exhibiting any symptoms:
1. Call the Fire Department (201-568-6300/6301) to investigate.
2. Open windows and doors.
3. Prepare to evacuate house.
4. For your alarm system, you can ask the supervising Fire Officer to re-set your alarm. You can identify the officer by the white shield on their helmet.
If your alarm goes off, and/or there are exhibited symptoms of exposure:
1. Evacuate the house immediately!
2. Determine how many family members are showing symptoms.
3. Call the Fire Department, or 911, to report the alarm. Let the dispatcher know that there has possibly been an exposure and, more importantly, the number of people exposed.
4. Do not re-enter residence unless it has been deemed safe by the Fire Officer, and/or PSE&G representative.
For your convenience we have included this helpful graphic illustrating the levels of risk associated with CO exposure:
For almost 100 years, the safety of our citizens has been the mission of the Englewood Fire Department, and our service to the public, the hallmark of our department. The EFD is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, so if you have an emergency, a problem, or a question, do not hesitate to phone us…We still make house calls.
Gerald P. Marion
Chief of Department
Englewood Fire Department