Denver firefighters evacuated an apartment building primarily full of University of Denver graduate students yesterday afternoon after a graduate student had called for help. She was groggy when she answered her door. Another student, found in an adjacent apartment, was taken to a hospital after she was found unconscious on the top floor of the three-story, 42-unit Josephine Place building at 2035 Josephine St. just before 5 p.m., said a spokesman for the fire department. This student tragically died later in the night.
Though the apartment is adjacent to the university, it is not a campus facility. Investigators found the carbon monoxide had leaked from a flue from the boiler that had been repaired Monday after wind damage last week.
The Denver fire department records about 400 cases of elevated carbon monoxide levels a year. About nine people in Colorado die annually from carbon monoxide poisoning, according to state officials who have urged tougher laws to require carbon detectors.
Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas that is produced when any fuel is incompletely burned. Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are similar to flu-like illnesses and include dizziness, fatigue, headaches, nausea, and irregular breathing. Carbon monoxide can leak from faulty furnaces or fuel-fired heaters or can be trapped inside by a blocked chimney or flue. Burning charcoal inside the house or running an automobile engine in an attached garage also will produce carbon monoxide in the home.
The first line of defense against carbon monoxide is to make sure that all fuel-burning appliances operate properly. About 200 people die each year from carbon monoxide poisoning associated with home fuel-burning heating equipment. Consumers should have their home heating systems (including chimneys and flues) inspected each year for proper operations and leakage. Inspectors should check all heating appliances and their electrical and mechanical components, thermostat controls and automatic safety devices.
Properly working carbon monoxide detectors can provide an early warning to consumers before the deadly gas builds up to a dangerous level. Exposure to a low concentration over several hours can be as dangerous as exposure to high carbon monoxide levels for a few minutes – the new detectors will detect both conditions. Most of the devices cost under $100. Each home should have at least one carbon monoxide detector in the area outside individual bedrooms. CPSC believes that carbon monoxide detectors are as important to home safety as smoke detectors are.