True stories about carbon monoxide poisoning from people whose lives have been seriously affected by tragedy or a near miss.
I had a call from a couple after a house move (I'm a chimney sweep and a registered HETAS fitter). Mr and Mrs P moved into a house with open fires and installed CO alarms in the rooms with the fires and in the bedrooms above said rooms. After lighting a fire in the rear downstairs room, CO alarm was bleeping like crazy in the bedroom above, diagnosis, one leaking chimney. Lining the flue cured the problem and all lived happily ever after, and are still living, I'm very glad to say, in the same property. Sensible people, be like Mr and Mrs P.
As a chimney sweep and a HETAS registered fitter, I was called out to a self installed multi fuel stove that wasn't working as it should be. It turned out that the wrong terminal had been fitted on the chimney pot and had become blocked with soot, so all the fumes were going back into the living room, hence the really big black mark on the chimney breast above the fireplace!
When questioned it turned out that the owner was having to open the patio doors a bit each time he lit the fire. The family (himself, wife, 2 kids and a dog) were then always falling asleep in the evening. I told him how so very lucky he was to be alive and that the opening of the patio door had saved his life! His reaction? For God's sake don't tell the wife!
An alarm would've sounded long before the effects of CO would have had chance to take place Please remember fit a CO alarm for ALL fires, whether it be gas or solid fuel, and don't self install!
"When my family and I moved into our house six years ago there was a gas fire in the living room. This had been fitted only eighteen months earlier and had, apparently, hardly been used. It was a fairly sophisticated fire as it had a remote control to turn the flame up and down. When the weather became cooler we started using the fire but I was rather disappointed that the remote control seemed to work only intermittently and I eventually gave up using it.
After a few nights, however, we noticed that the fire was emitting a slightly peculiar smell and a friend who stayed complained of a headache when in the room. Fortunately I decided to call in a gas engineer. It turned out that the fire had been fitted incorrectly and that the plastic box, housing the electronics within the workings of the fire that was controlled by the remote, had melted quite badly. This had caused the smell. Whether or not it had actually started leaking carbon monoxide is something I do not know as at that time we hadn’t got round to fitting a carbon monoxide alarm. (And of course carbon monoxide itself is odourless).
I asked the engineer if he could remove the electronics and just leave us with a basic fire. Unfortunately this was not possible and the fire had to be condemned. I found the paperwork for the installation that had been left by the previous owner and contacted the company that installed it. Not surprisingly they said it was out of guarantee and washed their hands of it.
Now that I know a lot more about the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning I wish I had taken a far more assertive line with them and can only hope that the same mistake has not been made elsewhere. We now have a wood burning stove!"
T.A - London
"Still working, but at the end of its serviceable life", was the description the surveyor gave of the ancient oil-fired boiler in our newly bought Georgian house. Friends recommended that we install a Carbon Monoxide alarm and we were relieved when the alarm did not sound when the boiler was first switched on.
However, three months later we were woken by the loud sounding of the alarm and discovered that the boiler had started leaking Carbon Monoxide. We feel eternally grateful to our friends for making us aware of the silent killer in our midst and are now looking to replace the boiler as soon as possible."
G.T - Dorset
"As a student nurse some years ago I lived in a house that I rented and shared with two other students. Despite all being in nursing we had never heard of carbon monoxide poisoning and it was a great shock to us to find out that the flu like symptoms we were all feeling were not in fact the flu but the beginning of carbon monoxide poisoning.
We found that during the evening sat in the living room we would feel headachy and lethargic and generally as if we were coming down with flu. During the day at work the symptoms got a little better but it was not until I had been away for the weekend that I realised that when I was out of the house I did not have a headache or flu symptoms but felt fine. When I returned home from the weekend within an hour or so I felt ill again. This was the point when we rang the gas board, who condemned the fire in the living room, explaining to us that as it had not been serviced for some time and was not burning the gas properly and as a result emitting carbon monoxide into our house.
Once the fire was repaired everything was fine. I am very cautious now though. I have a total of four CO alarms in my house, one in each room where I have an open fire and one in the boiler room. I would urge everybody who has an appliance that could emit carbon monoxide to get an alarm, better safe than sorry."
A.D - Lincolnshire
Many people are unaware of the devastating effects of carbon monoxide poisoning. Carbon Monoxide has no colour, smell or taste and cannot be detected by the human senses. It is extremely dangerous, binding itself to the haemoglobin in red blood cells and preventing them from transporting oxygen around the body.
According to statistics released by the Office for National Statistics, throughout England and Wales there are an average of over 60 deaths every year due to accidental exposure to carbon monoxide - up to 45% of which occur in the home.
Figure from the Department of Health show that there are around 4000 cases of carbon monoxide poisoning treated in A&E Departments across England each year - even mild cases can exacerbate existing conditions such as respiratory illnesses, leading to fatalities.
A study of more than 27,000 properties by the Liverpool John Moores University, supported by the Merseyside and West Midlands Fire Services, found that less than 10% of homes have a single carbon monoxide alarm to protect occupants from this deadly gas.
Source: Liverpool John Moores University