New London — That beeping noise from your carbon monoxide detector may be more than just a low-battery warning.
It could be telling you that toxic gases are filling your home.
Anne Hunziker and her husband, John, heard their CO detector go off Sunday in their Gardner Avenue home, but they didn't think much of it.
They changed the batteries and continued with their daily activities.
“We both felt a little lightheaded,” said Anne Hunziker. “The next day I didn't feel so great. I went to lie in bed and then the detector went off again. I thought this was strange, so I called 911.”
When fire personnel arrived, they found that low levels of carbon monoxide were seeping into the home through a burner arranged to look like logs in a fireplace.
The Hunzikers were taken to Lawrence & Memorial Hospital, where they were treated for two hours.
“Once gas devices start failing, they can get exponentially worse,” said Calvin Darrow, the city's fire marshal. “Eventually the carbon monoxide levels would have been high enough that it could have resulted in death.”
In the last two days, New London firefighters responded to two carbon monoxide incidents, the Hunzikers' and a house on Ocean Avenue on Tuesday. The occupants at the Ocean Avenue home did not require medical treatment.
Darrow said that many times people confuse the beeping noise for a low-battery warning and do not call the proper officials because they don't want to bother fire personnel.
Hunziker said she didn't immediately call 911 and instead called the routine line, which is unanswered on weekends, because she wasn't sure if it was a real emergency and didn't want to see fire crews unnecessarily line her street.
But Darrow said that could have been a deadly mistake.
“Unless you are completely sure that it is the battery, call 911 and immediately get out of the home,” said Darrow. “Don't hesitate to call.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 500 people each year die of unintentional CO exposure and an estimated 15,000 emergency room visits can be attributed to CO exposure.
Carbon monoxide is a byproduct of burning fossil fuels. It is a colorless and odorless gas that is not only deadly but deceptive: CO poisoning often disguises itself as other illnesses.
The Hunzikers' CO detectors were one of several hundred that were installed by city fire inspectors for free. Last year, fire inspectors received a $29,000 Federal Emergency Management Agency grant to install smoke and CO detectors throughout the city.
Darrow said the city still has some detectors available, and anyone who is interested should call the Fire Marshal's Office at 447-5294.
The Hunzikers are certainly grateful they had their CO detectors installed.
“I can't say enough about the fire department,” said Anne Hunziker. “They blew out the house with big blowers, secured the home and brought the keys to the hospital. I hate to say it, but if it weren't for those detectors we may not be around.”