Fla. rescue units getting carbon monoxide monitors

Fire Chief: In 2010, 13 fire rescue personnel were injured from exposure to carbon monoxide

By Alexandra Seltzer
Palm Beach Post

PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. — Palm Beach County Fire Rescue Capt. Don DeLucia calls it an electronic canary.

The Drager Pac 3500 is a carbon monoxide monitor that is being included in equipment for each of the county's 100 fire-rescue units to protect firefighters and paramedics from carbon monoxide exposure when responding to calls.

The need for the warning device is clear. In 2010, 13 fire-rescue personnel were injured from exposure to carbon monoxide, said Thomas Tolbert, the department's chief of training.

"They're going into houses not knowing what they're getting into," he said.

All fire-rescue units should be equipped with the monitors by the end of this week at a cost of $160 per monitor.

"It's well worth the value. It will help our employees immensely," Tolbert said.

When the monitor senses carbon monoxide -- an invisible, odorless gas -- a loud beep and flashing light will alert the crew.

With the monitors, which are attached to the patient assessment bags, rescuers will know as soon as they step into a home or garage that the gas is present.

Boca Raton and West Palm Beach fire-rescue units already use the monitors.

Palm Beach County Department of Health spokesman Tim O'Connor said 39 people were treated for carbon monoxide poisoning and seven died in 2010.

In January 2010, five people were exposed to carbon monoxide in Tequesta when they brought a grill into their house; two people were on a boat in Riviera Beach when they fell ill; and four people in Lake Worth were exposed when they, too, brought a grill into the house.

A frequent problem, Tolbert said, is people leaving their cars running in the garage. This year, one person has been treated for carbon monoxide exposure in Palm Beach Gardens because of a car left running. That person survived.

West Palm Beach Fire Rescue Battalion Chief Kevin Green said his agency has used MSA Altair monitors for the past four years. Boca Raton Fire Rescue has used the Drager Pac 3500 since September, said Division Chief Scott Johnston.

Johnston said they had a close call in July when they responded to a call of food poisoning that turned out to be carbon monoxide.

When rescuers arrived at the residence, they found a woman unconscious and a man slurring his words. When they found a car running in the garage, they knew what was wrong.

That's when Johnston decided to get monitors.

"They're on the 'on' mode sniffing for carbon monoxide 24/7," Johnston said.

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