Breathing easier

Dealing with winter’s heavy snowfall, slippery roads and bitter cold is hard enough in Maine without worrying whether or not you are safe sleeping in your own bed.

Six people in Saco were sickened by carbon monoxide on Monday. And, as a near tragedy in Bar Harbor last week illustrates, people need to take every step possible to avoid a build-up of deadly carbon monoxide in their homes.

In Bar Harbor, a mom and three children had to flee their apartment after drifting snow plugged the exhaust from their heating unit. Fortunately, they recognized the warning signs, including flu-like symptoms, and were able to get out in time. The gas is colorless, odorless and once inhaled curtails the blood’s ability to transport life sustaining oxygen to cells. In far too many cases, people just fail to wake up.

Statewide, public safety officials report that more than 40 people were sickened by carbon dioxide just in the last few weeks. If the conga line of storms continues, that number undoubtedly will rise.

Officials advise that all exhaust vents, particularly those that exit a structure through a side wall and close to the ground, be inspected during and after storms to make sure they are not plugged by snow. Also, as happened in Town Hill last week, sewer or septic gases can build up in a home when plumbing vents become buried in deep snow on roofs. Keep those clear as well.

The campaign over the past few decades to have smoke detectors installed in every home, especially inside and outside every bedroom door, has saved countless lives. In a similar vein, current building codes require that every home be equipped with a carbon dioxide detector. By law, every Maine rental apartment must have both smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.

According to Bar Harbor Fire Department officials, numerous inspections during the autumn turned up residences that lacked smoke and fire detectors or carbon monoxide alarms. In some cases, the units were installed but disabled to silence intrusive false alarms. In other instances, batteries were dead, or removed to be used in other devices.

Each year, around the time clocks are turned back, people are encouraged to test safety alarms and replace batteries, whether low or not. If you have been among the procrastinators, we urge that you do it now. Should your residence lack detectors, contact your local fire department or the American Red Cross. They all have programs through which detectors are provided free or at a very low price.

No question; fire, smoke and carbon monoxide detectors can save lives – most importantly yours, and those of your loved ones.

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