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Carbon Monoxide Raises Elmsford Fire Department's Winter Calls

ELMSFORD, N.Y. – The Elmsford Fire Department has noticed an upswing of calls during the winter months due to malfunctioning heating units, said members of Live Oak Engine Company No. 1.

Many of the heating system glitches, however, do not cause flames. Instead they may release carbon monoxide into the air, which is just as deadly.

"We probably respond more to actual carbon monoxide incidents as a result of malfunctioning heating units than we do fires," said Deputy Chief Syd Henry, who served as chief from 2008 to 2010. "That's more prevalent. It's not always about fire. We've had a few of those already this winter. We had to evacuate the premises, shut the heating units down until they could be repaired and people had to find elsewhere to live."

The winter and summer months are the busiest times of year for the Elmsford Fire Department, according to their annual statistics. The months of December 2010, January 2011 and November 2011 netted a total of 267 calls to their fire department and emergency medical service unit combined. April through June 2011 also saw a high number of calls, with 233 total.

When heating units are not operating properly, they have a tendency to release carbon monoxide into the atmosphere, Henry said. Carbon monoxide is odorless, colorless and tasteless. The Elmsford Fire Department uses Drager detectors and gas meters to determine the air's levels of carbon monoxide, hydrogen sulfide, oxygen and methane.

"Just have a heightened sense of awareness of the dangers," Henry said. "Have working smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors."

In the past year, the Elmsford Fire Department responded to fires caused by many different reasons. Careless smoking, unattended cooking, faulty wiring and faulty heating units caused some of the biggest blazes.

Henry advised residents to be conscious of their surroundings. While detectors assist in recognizing a possible problem, smoke and fire can be caused by candles, cooking, boilers and oil burners.

"It's really important that the heating units are maintained and serviced on a regular basis," Henry said. "People aren't really aware. With smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, a good idea is to change the batteries when you change the clocks."

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