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American Towman Magazine Presents the Week in TowingDecember 12 - December 18, 2018

Carbon Monoxide: The Silent Killer

carbonmonoxidedanger 776c5By Randall C. Resch

In 2016, a New Jersey husband and father began the chore of shoveling his family's vehicle from an overnight snowbank that accumulated in their neighborhood. As he shoveled, his wife and child sat inside the car with the engine running to stay warm.

In the time it took to shovel, exhaust fumes entered the partially blocked vehicle.

Both mom and child died from carbon monoxide poisoning.

Carbon monoxide is a colorless/odorless gas that is initially non-irritating. Severe neurological damage can occur after only a few minutes of exposure. Motorists die from carbon monoxide poisoning in their vehicles every year, especially in winter months and periods of heavy snow loads.

Dispatchers and call-takers take note: If your tow company is experiencing extreme call volume and estimated arrival times are lengthy, be aware of the potential carbon monoxide exposure to motorists and passengers sitting and awaiting a tow truck's arrival. Customers likely will wait inside their cars with their heaters on until the tow truck arrives.

They could be potential carbon monoxide victims.

CO Fumes Kill

When operators and service techs experience long hours due to high-call volumes, they may need a quick break or catch a quick nap to re-energize. If tow vehicles are parked in areas with tall amounts of packed snow, parking near snow banks could create enough exhaust blockages to overcome unsuspecting tow operators. It takes five to 10 minutes to feel symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning like headaches, dizziness, nausea and more.

Tow company personnel should be aware of carbon monoxide poisoning as it relates to sitting/sleeping inside a running tow truck, especially with the heater going. If you're between calls or are forced to take a quick break, park in areas where you're not parked on top of or backed into stacked snow and do so only with the tow truck's windows rolled down. When an idling vehicle has its windows rolled up, toxic gasses enter the vehicle's interior and poisoning can occur.

According to the Center for Disease Control:
• If a vehicle's tailpipe is partially obstructed, exhaust can be re-directed underneath the vehicle and enter the passenger compartment.
• If vehicles are covered with ice and snow, carbon monoxide fumes that make their way into the vehicle's interior cannot escape if windows aren't rolled down allowing fresh air to enter.
• Repeatedly starting and stopping a vehicle's engine to stay warm actually generates more carbon monoxide than running it continuously.

Iowa State University conducted a study to determine that being exposed to concentrations of 400 parts per minute, a healthy adult could be in mortal danger after three hours of exposure. Higher concentrations at 1,600 ppm could induce symptoms within minutes and can kill in an hour.

Even a running vehicle inside a garage with the garage door wide open caused carbon monoxide levels within the garage to hit 500 ppm in just two minutes.

Always keep in mind that falling asleep inside a tow truck with the engine running is a deadly practice. Tow companies should always look for alternative solutions to keep company personnel from being overexposed to deadly carbon monoxide fumes.

Randall Resch is American Towman's and Tow Industry Week's Operations Editor, a former California police officer, tow business owner and retired civilian off-road instructor for Navy Special Warfare. Randall is an approved instructor for towers serving the California Highway Patrol's rotation contract. His course is approved by the California law enforcement community. He has written over 500 industry-related articles for print and on-line, is a member of the International Towing & Recovery Hall of Fame, and, a recipient of the 2017 Dave Jones Leadership Award.
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