Friday, January 28, 2011

Danger of Running The Vehicle Heater

Trying to stay warm inside a vehicle can be deadly, as two young girls found out. The two victims of this near-tragic incident were only 4 and 7 years old. They were playing inside the snowbound vehicle in the Bronx, New York while their mother was outside shoveling the snow away so they could drive off. To stay warm, the engine was  running and the heater was turned on.

Apparently, some snow got piled up against the tailpipe, backing up the exhaust and forcing it into the vehicle. Both girls soon lost consciousness, and when they were admitted to Lebanon Hospital, they were both in critical condition. The 7-year-old was placed in a hyperbaric oxygen chamber to treat her near-death  condition. The last report I received said the doctors were trying to determine in the younger girl would need the same treatment.

I'm often asked if it's safe to take shelter inside a vehicle and run the engine so the heater can keep you warm. This incident gives a clear indication of the answer. Carbon monoxide poisoning is deadly and sneaky. The gas is odorless, colorless, and the effects of exposure are so subtle and sudden that when you realize what's happening, you probably won't remain conscious long enough to even open a window or move outside.

NOTE: After receiving a reader's remark about the above posting (it doesn't show up in the comments because I don't post comments that contain foul language or bitter rantings, only comments that can be useful to readers), I am prompted to add here that becoming a victim of carbon monoxide poisoning doesn't require that you smother the tailpipe of a vehicle with snow. A perfectly open tailpipe at the end of a faulty exhaust system will still do the job. Leaky exhaust systems are very common and, if the vehicle is sitting still while the engine is running, presents a lethal hazard. So sleeping the night in your vehicle with the engine running to keep the heater operating is unwise. Folks die in their RVs because they left the power generator running all night to keep the air conditioner going, and the exhaust from the generator invades the living quarters, which then become death quarters. People die of CO poisoning in their homes due to malfunctioning gas furnace. So you don't have to be stuck in snow that has covered the tailpipe to become a near-death victim as the two girls in the above incident, or a totally dead victim.

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