CO alarm saves family from poisoning

A carbon monoxide alarm going off in the middle of the night alerted Pauline Smith to the fact that her neighbours’ lives were in danger.
A family of three – a man, a woman in her 20s and a baby believed to be about 15 months old – were taken to hospital from their flat in Elm Park near Romford after upstairs neighbour Smith raised the alarm when her FireAngel CO alarm alerted her to the gas’ presence.

“The carbon monoxide detector undoubtedly saved this family’s lives,” Hornchurch Fire Station watch manager Darren Draper to the Romford Recorder. “If the neighbour had not raised the alarm this incident could have been a lot worse.”

It is believed the leak may have been caused by a faulty cooker.

Carbon monoxide levels in the flat were dangerously high.

Firefighters from Hornchurch and Dagenham evacuated seven people from the block and used specialist gas detectors to check the carbon monoxide levels before allowing them back in.

Smith had a nasty shock when the fireman found most of the gas was in her bedroom. Tests also showed a level of 10% of carbon monoxide in her blood.

Mr Draper added: “It is very important that everyone has a carbon monoxide alarm and at least one smoke alarm in their home.”

Each year the Department of Health estimates there are around 40 deaths from accidental CO poisoning in England and Wales and in excess of 200 non-fatal cases that require hospitalisation.


Nick Rutter, managing director of Sprue Safety Products, the manufacturer and supplier of CO alarms under the FireAngel, First Alert and BRK brands, said: “The dangers of CO poisoning are still largely unrecognised by members of the public. Everyone needs to be aware of the risks.

“Carbon monoxide is a highly poisonous gas that has no colour, taste or smell, so it is totally invisible to the human senses. Because the gas is so difficult to detect and the symptoms (such as headaches) so common to other complaints, many people can be poisoned without knowing it.

“Everyone is at risk, but CO is most hazardous for vulnerable groups including the elderly, unborn babies, pregnant mums and children who spend a lot of time at home.

“Badly-fitted appliances, which use gas or other household fuels such as coal and wood, along with faulty boilers, flues or poorly ventilated ovens are often to blame. Worryingly, CO can also enter a property from adjoining households, as seen in this case.”

About Fiona Russell-Horne

Group Managing Editor across the BMJ portfolio.

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