Then one day last spring I woke up and took my kids to school like I did every other day. I can’t tell you what time I left the house or what the weather was like that morning or even what I was wearing. But after hitting two separate schools, I probably pulled back into the garage somewhere between 9:05 and 9:12 a.m., depending on how long it took me to weave my way through the parent drop-off line that day. Then I closed the garage, turned off the alarm, came into the house and most likely spent the next seven hours doing laundry, confirming appointments, maybe watching a little Bravo.
It wasn’t until around 4:15, when I went back down to the garage to go pick up my kids, that I realized I had left my car running. In an enclosed garage. That was attached to my house. Right below my bedroom. For seven hours. The looks on the faces of the firemen who responded to my 911 call told me all I needed to know: I was lucky to be alive.
I think about that day a lot. The way it could have gone, the events leading up to it. The truth? I don’t even know why my car was still running. Did I forget to turn off the engine because I was busy gossiping on the phone when I pulled in? Had I accidentally hit the remote start button while trying to juggle my phone and my keys and my coffee? Doesn’t matter. Either one of these seemingly meaningless mistakes could have cost me my life.
Did you know that any time you let your car run idle in the garage, carbon monoxide can build up and leak back into your house? Because I didn’t. All those winter mornings spent warming up the car so my kids wouldn’t be cold, dashing back inside to grab a forgotten lunch, talking on the phone for a few minutes before shutting off the engine—all potentially fatal. According to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 400 Americans die from unintentional exposure to carbon monoxide every year. It’s colorless, it’s odorless, and it can take a life in just minutes.
Here’s what you can do to protect yourself:
· In an attached garage, even if the door is open, never leave the car running. Fumes can build up very quickly in the garage and living area of your home. And never leave the car running while shoveling snow around it, either. Snow can obstruct the tail pipe, causing a buildup of carbon monoxide inside the car.
· If your car or SUV has a tailgate, open the vents or windows every time you open the tailgate to make sure air is moving through. If only the tailgate is open, carbon monoxide from the exhaust will be pulled into the vehicle.
· You should never operate a portable generator or any tool with a gasoline-powered engines (mowers, weed trimmers, snow blowers, chain saws, small engines or generators) in a house, garage or other enclosed space.
· If you haven’t already, install a carbon monoxide detector now. If it goes off, go outside and call 911 immediately. If you have symptoms that you think could be caused by carbon monoxide poisoning—headache, dizziness, nausea, drowsiness or confusion—leave the area right away, and call or go to the emergency room.