DALLAS (CBS 11 I-TEAM) – Stacy Lahorgue remembers the cold November day in 2011 vividly.
“Something was wrong that day,” she recalls.
The mail was not picked up. Her parents were not answering the door. She was right. Her parents were poisoned by carbon monoxide in the safety of their own home.
“My mom…she was down in her bed and her face was distorted,” Lahorgue recalls.
A faulty heater was to blame.
Her mom survived, but her dad didn’t make it.
“My dad had multiple organ damage,” says Lahorgue.
It was just weeks before their 50th wedding anniversary.
The couple did not have a Carbon Monoxide detector. But the I-Team has learned that even if they did, there’s no guarantee that would have worked the way it should have.
The CBS 11 I-Team put 18 used and new Carbon Monoxide Detectors to test at the Grand Prairie Fire Department.
Lt. Kevin Briggs, Captain Chris Kinney and firefighter Jason Simpson all from the Grand Prairie Fire Department assisted the I-Team with the test.
They changed out batteries, numbered and mounted the detectors and finally filled a room with Carbon Monoxide using a household generator. “It is what you would use when the power goes out after a storm,” Lt. Briggs told the I-Team.
The firefighters expected to see all 18 go off almost immediately.
Instead – the first detector went off 5 minutes into the test, when firefighters measured CO levels at 93 parts per million or ppm on their Carbon monoxide reader. Occupational Safety and Health Administration or OSHA recommends CO levels below 50 ppm.
Underwriters Laboratory or U-L standards require the devices to sound the alarm within 15- minutes of the 400 ppm reading. Prolonged exposure at 400 ppm can be fatal.
Inside our test room, the CO level in the room was spiking quickly.
At 525 ppm…only three alarms went off.
The firefighters were not comfortable with that. “I would want to be out before that,” Captain Kinney told us.
Within 10 minutes, 12 more alarms went off.
In the end, 15- of our devices appeared to do what they were supposed to do.
But they responded much slower than the firefighters would have wanted to see.
Three detectors never sounded at all.
The I-Team learned that carbon monoxide detectors break down over time and eventually expire.
It’s a warning you’ll only find in small print, buried in manuals, and some industry reports like one by Fay Engineering. The report says chemicals, dust and particles build up “causing the detecting components to lose their effectiveness.”
The firefighters agree. “Some people’s houses have a lot of dust.” Lt. Briggs told us. “The sensors are just so dirty that they’re not going to work properly”
Some devices also have an “End of Life Signal” to warn you if they’re expired. It is a requirement in newer detectors. But one final test by the I-Team found that, that might not work either.
We monitored the devices for over a week. One of them clearly needed to be replaced but it never gave an end of life signal. “In most people’s mind, they think if they changed the battery, it’s a good detector,” says Captain Kinney. “But that’s not always the case.”
Bottom line- you need to look at the detector right now and check the manufacturing date and the take note of the activation date.
Some need to be changed 7 years after activation and others say 10. Fire experts we spoke to say it is a good idea to change them out every 3-5 years.
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