HFD reminds residents of importance of CO2 alarms

By Chad Koenen


The lives of a Henning family were saved last weekend thanks to a device that costs less than a prime rib dinner on Friday night. 

Shannon and Debbie Starry were awaken in the early morning hours of Feb. 27 by a carbon monoxide alarm. The alarm detects dangerous levels of what is commonly referred to as the “silent killer,” due to its lack of smell. Had the family not purchased a carbon monoxide tester, which can cost as little as $20 apiece, Debbie Starry said the family would not likely be living today. 

“(I want to stress) the importance of a cheap $20 device, but it is such a life saving thing to have,” said Starry. “I just can’t stress how important they are to have.”

Starry said the family was sleeping and woke up at 4:30 a.m. to the sound of their carbon monoxide tester going off in their home. Initially thinking the batteries were bad in the tester, Starry quickly changed the batteries to see what would happen. 

When the reading on the carbon monoxide tester continued to go up, the Starry’s and their granddaughter got out of the house and called for help.

Had the Starry’s not had a carbon monoxide detector, or simply ignored the alarm until morning, Henning Fire Chief Mike Helle said the family would have likely gotten a headache and simply lied back down. 

“They probably would have laid down thinking they were getting a headache and never woke up,” he said. “If you think there is something going on with your house definitely call us and get it tested because it isn’t worth (not having a carbon monoxide alarm).”

Carbon monoxide is commonly referred to as the silent killer, because it is colorless, odorless, tasteless and non-irritating. If the early signs of carbon monoxide are ignored, a person may lose consciousness and be unable to escape the danger. 

Essentially, carbon monoxide prevents the body from getting oxygen. Some of the symptoms can include everything from headaches to dizziness, nausea, weakness, loss of muscle control, shortness of breath and many more other symptoms that could be considered similar to getting the flu.  

Carbon monoxide comes from a variety of sources like appliances that burn fuel, as well as blocked vents outside the home and vehicles running in an enclosed space. 

“They call it the silent killer. It’s hard for anyone to know what is going on. It’s good to keep checking those vents and keep (the snow) shoveled away.”

Mike Helle, Henning Fire Chief

Starry said the elevated levels of carbon monoxide were caused by a faulty furnace. She credited the quick response by the Henning Fire Department for helping to make the difficult situation in the middle of the night a bit easier to handle. She said they described what was going on every step of the way and how to properly heat the house until a professional could come and look at their furnace. 

Had the family not had a carbon monoxide tester, she said the firefighters said it was likely they would have never made it out of the house alive.

“Even if you do have one, check it to see if it is still working,” said Starry. “The firemen said if we had not had one we would not be alive.” 

Today, Starry credits the help of the fire department, as well as the cheap carbon monoxide alarm the family purchased as the reason they are still alive. She is encouraging everyone who may not already have a carbon monoxide alarm to purchase one, for as little as $20, as they could save the lives of other people one day. She is also encouraging people to make sure the carbon monoxide alarm in a home works properly and to not ignore the alarm if it goes off in the middle of the night.  

Helle agreed that the quick thinking of the Starry family, as well as having a carbon monoxide alarm are the reasons the family is still alive today. 

If a person thinks they have elevated levels of carbon monoxide in a home, Helle said it is important to get out of the house, into fresh air and calling 911. If the temperatures outside are too cold, he suggested sitting in a warm vehicle until emergency personnel arrive on the scene. 

“When the fire department comes we have a big monitor that calculates the parts per million,” said Henning Fire Chief Mike Helle. “Their’s was really high.”

In addition to a malfunctioning furnace, Helle said things like starting a vehicle in the winter without opening a garage door to let out the exhaust can cause carbon monoxide poisoning.