Avoiding Carbon Monoxide Dangers with Gas Powered Generators

The dangers posed by a monster storm won't end when the snow or wind stops.

Gasoline-powered electric generators, used to heat homes that lose power because of ice and wind, pose a potentially deadly hazard in the hours and days after a storm passes, by filling the house with carbon monoxide, says Eric Lavonas, associate director of the Rocky Mountain Poison and Drug Center in Denver.

Carbon monoxide is an invisible, odorless, colorless gas. Thousands of American are treated for carbon monoxide poisoning each year and hundreds die, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

" By far, the biggest killer after a blizzard is carbon monoxide poisoning," Lavonas says. "The biggest mistakes people make are using improvised heating sources and using electrical generators improperly."

Health care provider Denver Health offers this advice:

-- Never run generators inside the carport, garage or house.

-- Never run a generator near an open window, and close all windows on the side of the house facing the generator.

-- Outdoor generators should be located downwind and as far as possible from any occupied building.

-- Have your heating system professionally inspected and serviced annually. Inspectors should also check chimneys and flues for blockages, corrosion, disconnections or loose connections.

-- Install carbon monoxide alarms, preferably in every bedroom or at least on each level of the home. Make sure the alarm can not be covered up by furniture or draperies.

-- If the alarm sounds, go outside immediately and call 911, instead of trying to locate the source of the gas. Don't re-enter your home until the fire department says it's safe.

-- During and after a snowstorm, make sure vents for the dryer, fireplace, stove, and furnace are clear of snow build-up.

-- Never use gas or charcoal grills inside the home.

After a storm, many people are tempted to move generators inside, to protect them from the elements or prevent theft. Experts say a safer strategy is to mount generators on a concrete base where they can be chained down.

Several people were killed by carbon monoxide poisoning after the intense blizzard that hit New England in 2013.

Two people in Boston, including a child, died after sitting in a running car whose tailpipe was blocked by snow. An 8-year-old Brooklyn boy died in a house fire set by a portable space heater.

Small children, the elderly, and people with chronic health conditions are most vulnerable, Lavonas says.

A cold house is usually safer than an improperly heated one, Lavonas says.

" Being in a house or apartment with no power is much like being in a tent," Lavonas says. "It can be cold, but at least you are dry and protected from the wind. If you dress warmly and don't do anything unsafe, you'll probably be OK."

Initial symptoms of moderate or mild carbon monoxide poisoning are similar to the flu, but without a fever, according to Denver Health.

The most common symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, chest pain and confusion, according to the CDC. High levels of carbon monoxide exposure cause progressively more serious symptoms, such as loss of consciousness.