Family Escapes Serious Carbon Monoxide Illness After Car Accidentally Left Running in Garage

Arlington Heights Fire Department Engine 2 on the scene at the street while crew work on ventilating Carbon Monoxide from a home in Arlington Heights
Arlington Heights Fire Department Engine 2 on the scene at the street while crew work on ventilating Carbon Monoxide from a home in Arlington Heights.

Police, firefighters, and paramedics from Arlington Heights responded about 8:00 p.m. Wednesday, September 1, 2021 to a report of activated carbon monoxide detectors and the report of at least two person feeling ill on Haddow Avenue near Hawthorne Street in Arlington Heights.




A family started to notice an exhaust odor seconds before carbon monoxide detectors were activated at a single-family home in Arlington Heights. At least two people felt slight headaches.

Symptoms of CO poisoning

Since CO is odorless, colorless, and otherwise undetectable to the human senses, people may not know that they are being exposed. The initial symptoms of low to moderate CO poisoning are similar to the flu (but without the fever). They include:

Headache
Fatigue
Shortness of breath
Nausea
Dizziness

High level CO poisoning results in progressively more severe symptoms, including:

Mental confusion
Vomiting
Loss of muscular coordination
Loss of consciousness
Ultimately death

— CPSC | Carbon Monoxide

Family members discovered that a car had accidentally been left running in the attached garage with the garage door closed since about 4:00 p.m. — a period of four hours. An emergency situation in the afternoon had distracted the driver of the car, and the vehicle was accidentally left running unattended.




Firefighters on scene called for an engine company to assist with ventilating and measuring Carbon Monoxide or CO levels in all rooms and interior space at the home. A carbon monoxide level of 70 ppm was measured in one part of the living space, but a level of 160 ppm was measured just inside the interior door from the garage to the house.

CO Poisoning Prevention Tips

Never use a gas range or oven to heat a home.

Never leave the motor running in a vehicle parked in an enclosed or partially enclosed space, such as a garage.

Never run a generator, pressure washer, or any gasoline-powered engine inside a basement, garage, or other enclosed structure, even if the doors or windows are open, unless the equipment is professionally installed and vented. Keep vents and flues free of debris, especially if winds are high. Flying debris can block ventilation lines.

Never run a motor vehicle, generator, pressure washer, or any gasoline-powered engine less than 20 feet from an open window, door, or vent where exhaust can vent into an enclosed area.

Never use a charcoal grill, hibachi, lantern, or portable camping stove inside a home, tent, or camper.

If conditions are too hot or too cold, seek shelter with friends or at a community shelter.

If CO poisoning is suspected, consult a health care professional right away.

— CDC | Carmon Monoxide Poisoning

Firefighters opened windows and used fans to ventilate the home while the residents waited outside. The two people who felt slightly ill refused transportation to the hospital by paramedics. Firefighters worked at least one hour at the scene until the interior air was safe at the home.




Many accidents occur every year involving carbon monoxide — ranging from malfunctioning furnaces to improper use of appliances inside a building. Every year, at least 430 people die in the United States from accidental CO poisoning, and approximately 50,000 people in the United States visit the emergency department each year due to accidental CO poisoning, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Carbon Monoxide Safety Tips from the Seattle Fire Department

1. Do not burn charcoal or use gasoline generators indoors, including the garage.

2. Never use gas ovens to heat your home, even for a short time.

3. If you use a fireplace or wood stove, make sure that chimneys and flues are in good condition and are not blocked.

4. Never idle a car in a garage, even when the garage door is open.

5. If you use gas or oil appliances, make certain carbon monoxide alarms are installed on every level of your home and outside every sleeping area.

— Seattle Fire Department

CO concentration is measured in parts per million (ppm). The health effects of CO depend on the CO concentration and length of exposure, as well as each individual’s existing health condition. Even the combination of alcohol consumption with CO exposure can compound the effects of CO poisoning and make symptoms worse.

According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), people will not experience any symptoms from prolonged exposure to CO levels of approximately 1 to 70 ppm, although some heart patients might experience an increase in chest pain.

As CO levels increase and remain above 70 ppm, symptoms become more noticeable and can include headache, fatigue and nausea. At sustained CO concentrations above 150 to 200 ppm, disorientation, unconsciousness, and death are possible.

According to the Seattle Fire Department reference to Kidde, the manufacturer of CO alarm devices, CO levels of 400 ppm are life threatening after 3 hours. Levels of 800 ppm can cause death within 3 hours. Levels of 1600 ppm can cause death within 1 hour, and 6400 ppm can cause death within 10-15 minutes.

Carbon Monoxide Alarm devices are designed to activate before life-threatening levels occur.

Carbon Monoxide Levels That Activate CO Alarms

A Carbon Monoxide level of 40 PPM will activate the CO Alarm in 10 hours.

A Carbon Monoxide level of 50 PPM will activate the CO Alarm in 8 hours.

A Carbon Monoxide level of 70 PPM will activate the CO Alarm in 1 to 4 hours.

A Carbon Monoxide level of 150 PPM will activate the CO Alarm in 10 to 50 minutes.

A Carbon Monoxide level of 400 PPM will activate the CO Alarm in 4 to 15 minutes.

— Kidde

Four people died in the New Orleans area following Hurricane Ida when power failures persisted across the region and portable generators were not used properly. One person was killed and 12 became ill from carbon monoxide poisoning on Wednesday, September 1, 2021 in the New Orleans area. On Thursday, September 2, 2021,f a 54 year-old mom and her two children, age 23 and 17, were killed by carbon monoxide poisoning when a portable generator was operating after it was placed against an outside wall of the house. Generators should be placed at least 20 feet away from a building when they are operating. The victims killed were identified as Demetrice Johnson, 54, Dasjonay Curly, 23, and Craig Curly, 17. According to the New Orleans Advocate, the fire department was responding to about five carbon monoxide poisoning calls per hour on Wednesday afternoon, September 1, 2021.




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CPSC staff worked closely with Underwriters Laboratories (UL) to help develop the safety standard (UL 2034) for CO alarms. CPSC helps promote carbon monoxide safety by raising awareness of CO hazards and the need for correct use and regular maintenance of fuel-burning appliances. CPSC staff also works with stakeholders to develop voluntary and mandatory standards for fuel-burning appliances and conducts independent research into CO alarm performance under likely home-use conditions.