In New England, February brings the heart of winter. A balmy 20 degrees, a fresh 12" of blizzard blown snow, and 50 mph winds. What more can we ask for? For those of you in the warmth and sunshine, I envy you.
Unfortunately, winter comes with its share of safety hazards, especially during and after a snowstorm. A few weeks ago I wrote about the importance of digging out fire hydrants and providing adequate clearance for fire department operations. I checked this morning and all hydrants in my neighborhood are clear, another snowstorm success!
While a hazard all year round, another hazard especially present during the cold winter months is carbon monoxide. During and after a snowstorm, vents for dryers, furnaces, stoves and fireplaces can become blocked by the pile up of snow. Generators may be used when there is a loss of power. People often warm up their vehicles in advance. Heating equipment is used more frequently and could malfunction or may be used in unsafe locations. All of these situations pose a threat to the development of CO.
In 2010, U.S. fire departments responded to an estimated 80,100 non-fire CO incidents in which carbon monoxide was found, or an average of nine such calls per hour. The number of incidents increased 96 percent from 40,900 incidents reported in 2003. This increase is most likely due to the increased use of CO detectors, which alert people to the presence of CO. (source: Non-Fire Carbon Monoxide Incidents," by Ben Evarts, March 2012.)
NFPA 1, Fire Code, requires carbon monoxide detection equipment in certain scenarios. These requirements are included in NFPA 1, but are extracted from NFPA 101, Life Safety Code. Even though they are governed by another Code, being aware of CO equipment provisions is extremely important for a fire inspector and AHJ, as well as for consumers and residents. Per NFPA 1,2015 edition, the following provisions apply:
18.104.22.168 Carbon Monoxide (CO) Detection and Warning Equipment. Where required by another section of this Code, carbon monoxide (CO) detection and warning equipment shall be provided in accordance with NFPA 720, Standard for the Installation of Carbon Monoxide (CO) Detection and Warning Equipment. [101:9.12]
Paragraph 22.214.171.124 provides a reference to NFPA 720, Standard for the Installation of Carbon Monoxide (CO) Detection and Warning Equipment, where such equipment is mandated by another section of the Code. It should be noted that not all occupancies are required to be provided with carbon monoxide (CO) detection and warning equipment. Such equipment is not currently required by the Code to be installed in any existing occupancy; its use is generally limited to new occupancies in which occupants might be asleep or otherwise have decreased capability of self-preservation and where vehicles, combustion equipment, or appliances are present. The occupancies requiring CO detection and warning equipment are as follows:
1. New educational occupancies (126.96.36.199.4)
2. New day-care homes (188.8.131.52.5 of NFPA 101)
3. New and existing health care occupancies containing fireplaces
(184.108.40.206 and 220.127.116.11 of NFPA 101)
4. New one- and two-family dwellings (18.104.22.168.2)
5. New lodging or rooming houses (22.214.171.124.6)
6. New hotels and dormitories (126.96.36.199.6)
7. New apartment buildings (188.8.131.52.6)
Exhibit 13.26 from the NFPA 1 Handbook illustrates an example of a CO alarm. It is important to note that all CO detectors and alarms have a limited service life — typically about 5 to 10 years. CO detection equipment must be replaced at the end of its service life; the recommended replacement date is required by NFPA 720 to be marked
on the device.
The requirements for CO detection and warning equipment are not based on safety to life from fire considerations. Rather, they are intended to mitigate the risk to building occupants posed by exposure to CO gas, which is a natural product of incomplete combustion of hydrocarbon fuels. Where combustion gases from equipment in a building (such as a fuel-fired furnace) are not properly vented, or where CO gas infiltrates a building from a space like an attached garage, occupants are at risk of CO poisoning. CO gas is sometimes referred to as the silent killer because
it is colorless and odorless.
Without CO detection and warning equipment, as required by the Code, its presence is virtually impossible to detect.
For additional information on carbon monoxide check out NFPA's safety resources, including a tip sheet, toolkit, facts and figures and research report.
Happy Friday! Stay safe...and warm!