Carbon monoxide: a close call

Many years ago I gave my mum a carbon monoxide alarm because she had a gas fire in the lounge. Over the years it wore out and when she was passing a local pharmacy recently she decided to buy a new one.

Last night it saved her life.

A few days ago I was sitting in the lounge with Mum and Dad, having just celebrated her 91st birthday. As usual she was sat close to the fire and had nodded off in front of the TV. This happens every time I go home these days; neither Dad nor I thought anything of it.

But on Wednesday the carbon monoxide alarm went off loudly. Gas Emergency were called and arrived swiftly. The gas fire was moved and the flue opened up. A chimney sweep was called to remove two black bags full of twigs, wood, nests and other rubbish which had accumulated over the years.

It’s really easy to forget that you have a chimney, and it serves a purpose, if you don’t have a traditional open fire. But gas fires vent through existing chimneys, and it is vital to keep the chimney well swept – and ensure that all gas appliances are serviced regularly.

The chimney sweep cleaned out the chimney, then determined that the cowl on the top was the wrong type to keep birds out and it must be changed forthwith. That will be done.

Mum had been complaining of feeling poorly in recent weeks and when she feels poorly she sits close to the fire and nods off… suddenly she is feeling much better! She and Dad also noticed that they tended to feel better when they were out and about – carbon monoxide poisoning can often look like mild flu, or make you think you’re just a bit under the weather.

So don’t assume that you’ve a health problem: make sure a Gas Safe Register engineer checks all fuel-burning appliances regularly – and sweep your chimneys.

“You’ve still got your parents,” Mum said brightly. “Thank goodness for the alarm.”

Thank goodness indeed.

The moral of the story? Don’t assume an elderly parent is nodding off just because they are sleepy. Get your chimneys swept, your appliances checked, and get an alarm as a last line of defence.

Janice Cave

RoSPA’s Director of Public Affairs

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