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Carbon monoxide detectors now required

Northwest Guardian

Published: 01:57PM February 7th, 2013

Joint Base Lewis-McChord fire safety experts warn individuals renting apartments, condos or single-family homes that a new state law effective Jan. 1, 2013 requires those residences to have at least one working carbon monoxide detector.

“If you are renting, it’s the apartment manager’s or homeowner’s responsibility to install one,” said JBLM fire inspector Ed Chavez.

The law does not require the installation of carbon monoxide detectors in single-family homes that were owner-occupied before July 26, 2009, but carbon monoxide detectors must be included in any application for a building permit when remodeling or installed upon sale of the home.

JBLM housing management company Equity Residential has installed carbon monoxide detectors in all residential dwellings located on the installation at a cost of $40,000.

“We updated all 5,000 homes on base before the Jan. 1 deadline,” Todd Vasko, managing director of Equity Residential, said.

The law is the state’s answer to a December 2006 storm that left thousands of homes without heat for days. Trying to keep warm, people brought outdoor barbecues and gas-powered generators indoors. Hundreds were treated for carbon monoxide poisoning at local hospitals and eight people died.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, carbon monoxide is an odorless, invisible gas caused by the incomplete burning of fuel. In the home, carbon monoxide can come from fuel burning appliances and heating systems.

Individuals experiencing symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning, such as headaches, nausea and dizziness, should call 911 immediately, Chavez said.

The NFPA suggests installing carbon monoxide detectors in a central location to sleeping areas and on every level of the home. They can be purchased at hardware or home improvement stores and are available in battery-powered or plug-in models.

Clean those dryer vents

Cold and wet weather usually requires more layers of clothing to keep warm, and more layers likely means more laundry. The NFPA cautions that too many heavily used clothes dryers are not regularly cleaned.

In 2010, the leading cause of clothes dryer fires was combustion of dust, fiber or lint. From 2006 to 2010, 81 percent of home structure fires in Washington began in laundry rooms, and 92 percent of those fires involved clothes dryers, according to NFPA statistics.

“People are not taking the time to clean their lint traps,” Chavez said. “The lint trap should be emptied every time you use your dryer.”

The NFPA makes the same recommendation and suggests keeping the area around a clothes dryer free from material that can burn, like boxes or cleaning supplies. Cleaning the clothes dryer air exhaust vent with a vacuum cleaner or having it professionally cleaned is also a good idea.

“If the clothes aren’t getting dry, you might want to check your vent,” Chavez said.

The NFPA also advises turning off the dryer when leaving home or going to bed, and following the manufacturer’s operating instructions by not overloading the dryer.

Battery safety

Recent reports of problems caused by lithium-ion batteries in Boeing’s Dreamliner aircraft have prompted JBLM fire officials to lay out the dangers of improper battery storage.

The chemicals in lithium-ion batteries are most commonly found in rechargeable batteries, used mainly for consumer electronic devices like cell phones and laptop computers. They are also found in hybrid and electric cars.

According to the Fire Protection Research Foundation, there are new fire safety challenges regarding storage and handling of these batteries. Chavez said lithium-ion batteries, especially when exposed to other elements, can cause violent fires.

“That means when Soldiers take them out to the field (for training purposes), they need to make sure the batteries are clean and dry before they are stored,” Chavez said.

Lithium-ion battery fires can be so dangerous that firefighters are discouraged from trying to put them out since lithium is highly reactive to water, the NFPA website states.

Chavez said all batteries should be stored properly, which means leaving them in their original packaging until ready for use.

Batteries should also be separated from other hazardous materials and stored in a cool, dry and ventilated area. Never mix new and used batteries in electronic devices.

Disposal of used batteries is just as important, said Ken Smith, JBLM Public Works Environmental Division Operations Branch chief. Procedures are different for households, military units and offices on the installation. Batteries should never be thrown in the garbage, he said. Call 967-6455 for more information about battery disposal on JBLM.