The Best Carbon Monoxide Detector (for First Responders, EMS)

The Best Carbon Monoxide Detector (for First Responders, EMS)

Carbon monoxide (CO) incidents often require response from emergency medical services (EMS), emergency medical technicians (EMT), ambulance drivers and first responders. When entering an area, first responders need to be assured of safe entry passage with respect to carbon monoxide gas. Gas-powered appliances and machinery, such as stoves, heaters, and vehicles produce lethal amounts of carbon monoxide gas that can accumulate in the home, office or business location. Since CO gas is tasteless and odorless, a portable CO meter is the only solution to safeguard first responders from the carbon monoxide exposure. It is recommended that EMS always carry a carbon monoxide monitor when responding to emergency calls and when entering unknown indoor locations.

 Pros

Cons

  • Carbon monoxide detectors save first responders from unintentional CO gas exposure
  • Carbon monoxide detectors provide visual and audible alarms
  • Carbon monoxide detectors warn EMS when dangerous levels of carbon monoxide are present in an area they are responding
  • Some states and counties require EMS to carry CO meters for protection from unintentional carbon monoxide gas exposure
  • Home CO detectors are not appropriate for EMS since they trigger at 70 ppm (too high and not sensitive enough)
  • Many carbon monoxide detectors are not waterproof and may not be able to endure harsh outdoor environments.
  • CO meters for EMS all require regular calibration and maintenance to assure operation

Best Carbon Monoxide Detector for First Responders?

Some of the best CO detectors for EMS are:

What are the CO Detector Requirements for EMS?

When choosing a CO detector for EMS, it is best the CO meter:

  • can detect low levels of carbon monoxide and alarm at low levels (between 9 to 50ppm) to provide early and fast alarming
  • is dust resistant, water resistant to endure various weather and environmental conditions
  • is battery operated and can be calibrated, to allow for flexible EMS operation
  • is small and light, to not be a burden to EMS personnel
  • should include three alarm modes: LED light, Buzzer sound and Vibration. These modes are important to help alarms in extreme situations (noisy, smoky, busy, dark, sunny, and wet and windy environments)
  • have an alligator clip for easy bag or person clip on
  • have adjustable alarms to be set to any local, county or state requirement (and can be adjust as necessary when rules or laws or recommended alarm levels are modified)

Which EMS must have a CO Detector?

Different states and counties have various laws regarding which first responders should possess a CO meter.

  • Police
  • Ambulance
  • Aircraft first responders
  • Firefighters
  • Pennsylvania Department of Health requires every EMS vehicle to possess one CO detector
  • In one study, over a one year period, EMS staff had a CO detector. They recorded 40 alarms with the median CO concentration of 167 ppm. It was found that gas heating were the main CO culprits. 

How Long Do Carbon Monoxide Detectors Last?

Most carbon monoxide detectors have a lifespan of two to three years. Carbon monoxide detectors should be tested on a regular basis. Each department or private entity managing first reponders, should have in place a maintenance scheudle that should include bump testing, calibration and replacement of EMS Carbon Monoxide Detectors.

What are Typical EMS Carbon Monoxide Calls?

EMS and first responders often answers 911 calls when carbon monoxide incidents occur such as:

  • gasoline appliances emitting carbon monoxide such as saw or power tools
  • carbon monoxide exposure from portable gas generators accumulating indoors
  • carbon monoxide exposure from vehicles left running in the garage
  • carbon monoxide exposure due to a cracked heat exchanger
  • carbon monoxide exposure at hotels due to pool heaters
  • carbon monoxide exposure at hotels due to adjacent parking garage exhaust
  • carbon monoxide exposure at schools, construction sites or businesses due to contractors using gas powered tools, generators, forklifts and other power equipment
  • carbon monoxide accumulation due to unvented wood stoves or fireplaces

It should be mentioned, there are many calls with no mention of carbon monoxide being the cause of a injury, illness or fatality, hence why it is extremely important for EMS to always carry a carbon monoxide alarm when answering a 911 call and entering unknown indoor places.

What is Carbon Monoxide Gas?

Carbon monoxide gas, or CO, is an odorless and colorless gas that can be lethal. EMS are trained to handle CO exposure situations, however, since the gas is odorless and colorless, only a working CO meter can save EMS from a lethal situation. 

What should a First Responder do in a 911 Carbon Monoxide call?

  • The US Consumer Product Safety Commission has a guidelines for first responders answering 911 carbon monoxide calls.
  • Various municipalities have developed detailed procedures, known as "Carbon Monoxide Alarm Response Policies"
  • First responder policies may include minimum CO to enable ventilation - usually 9ppm for homes (per EPA) and 35 or 50ppm for business (per OSHA TAW 8 hours), see City Of Norfolk below.

An example carbon monoxide fatal incident can be found in this article. It gives an interesting perspective of what EMS and first responders may encounter.

How is Carbon Monoxide Produced?

CO is created when various fuels, such as coal, wood, charcoal, oil, kerosene, propane, and natural gas, are burned incompletely. CO is produced by products and equipment that use internal combustion engines, such as portable generators, autos, lawn mowers, and power washers.

Where is Carbon Monoxide Gas Found?

CO can be found in exhaust gases from automobiles, small engines, stoves, lanterns, barbecues, fireplaces, gas ranges, and furnaces. CO can accumulate indoors, poisoning humans and animals who breathe it.

    Does Carbon Monoxide Make You Sleepy?

    Headaches, tiredness, and nausea are common symptoms of modest carbon monoxide exposure. Unfortunately, because the symptoms are often flu-like, they are readily neglected. A pounding headache, fatigue, confusion, and an increased heart rate are all be symptoms of medium carbon monoxide exposure.

      Have any EMS Died from Carbon Monoxide Poisoning?

      Yes. Several EMT deaths have occurred as a result of CO poisoning:

      • In 2010, after being overpowered by carbon monoxide while on duty in the small east Texas community of White Oak, one emergency medical technician died and two coworkers were hospitalized.
      • In 2014, an EMT with the Nottingham Fire Department was killed when carbon monoxide from a generator used during the extensive power outages killed her. 

      What are the uses of a Carbon Monoxide Detector?

      Carbon Monoxide Detectors also known as carbon monoxide alarms, CO meters or carbon monoxide analyzers. They all perform the same task (measuring CO gas concentration), but based on their periphery, alarming, packaging and accessories they are designed for various applications. Most common applications are as follows:

      How Does a Carbon Monoxide Detector Work?

      Carbon monoxide detectors are used to keep track of the amount of carbon monoxide in the air. The sensor element chemically interacts with the CO molecules. Via a electrochemical reaction, electrical current is produced that is proportional to the CO gas concentration in the air.

        How Expensive Are Carbon Monoxide Detectors?

        Carbon monoxide detectors are less than $100. Advanced features such as data logging and IP67 (water proof) usually increase the price beyond $100.

        What Gases Does a Carbon Monoxide Detector Detect?

        Most carbon monoxide detectors are designed to detect only carbon monoxide gas. However is should be noted that high humidity and the presence of hydrogen gas will trigger false positives. In other words, the CO detector has a cross interference to high humidity and hydrogen gas.

        Can I Install a Carbon Monoxide Meter Myself?

        Yes.

        Carbon monoxide detectors can be installed by anyone. Some CO meters come with alligator clips, making them suitable for clipping to your waistband, carry bag or clothing - perfect for EMT and first responders.

        How Do EMS personnel Test their Carbon Monoxide Detector?

        It's critical to test a new carbon monoxide detector.

        A schedule for bump testing and calibration should be in place by your department or managing company. This will ensure proper carbon monoxide detection and the monitor's ability to inform the user of the presence of carbon monoxide gas

        Final Words

        • Carbon monoxide alarms go by a variety of names, including carbon monoxide detectors, carbon monoxide meters, and carbon monoxide alarms.
        • CO is a common poison and exposes many people. Only a CO detector can provide the early warning to keep first responders safe.
        • Gas-powered appliances and machinery, such as stoves, heaters, and vehicles produce lethal amounts of carbon monoxide gas that can accumulate in the home, office or business location.
        • Since CO gas is tasteless and odorless, a portable CO meter is the only solution to safeguard first responders from the carbon monoxide exposure.
        • It is recommended that EMS always carry a carbon monoxide monitor when responding to emergency calls and when entering unknown indoor locations.

        About the Author

        Dr. Koz is the President of FORENSICS DETECTORS, where the company operates from the scenic Palos Verdes Peninsula in Los Angeles, California. He is a subject matter expert on gas sensor technology, gas detectors, gas meters, and gas analyzers. He has been designing, building, manufacturing and testing toxic gas detection systems for over 20 years.

        gas detector expert

        Every day is a blessing for Dr. Koz. He loves to help customers solve their unique problems. Dr. Koz also loves spending time with his wife and his three children going to the beach, grilling burgers, and having a cold beer. 

        Read more about Forensics Detectors here.

        Email:  drkoz@forensicsdetectors.com
        Phone: +1 424-341-3886


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