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Fire marshal warns about carbon monoxide

In the wake of the death of an 11-year-old boy in Boston from carbon monoxide poisoning, State Fire Marshal Stephen D. Coan reminded Massachusetts residents to be vigilant about checking ventilation around their furnace vents and tailpipes.

With snow mounds so deep, the conditions are ripe for ventilation to be blocked and for gases to accumulate in closed spaces, Coan warned.

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The boy died after suffering carbon monoxide poisoning while taking a break from shoveling inside a car that had a blocked tailpipe this morning near the Roxbury-Dorchester line, according to the Boston Fire Department.

“It’s not like the old days in the old homes when chimneys provided the exhaust for the fireplace,” he said. Some furnaces use exterior vents just a few feet off the ground, which in a storm of this magnitude may be completely blocked by snowdrifts.

He urged homeowners to check the vents, especially if they have lost power.

Often, he noted, when the heat resumes, there’s not enough strength to push ventilation out.

The same principle, he said, applies to cars, whose tailpipes may be clogged with snow. “If you’ve got to warm up your car and dig it out, get the tailpipe out first,” he said. And be sure to clear the exhaust pipe before running the car to charge a battery or a cellphone, he said.

Such dangers could complicate the recovery from a blizzard, even if the brunt of it has past, Coan said.

After the brunt of the blizzard and power outages, he said, frustrated homeowners should be careful as they try to restore normalcy.

“It’s when people will be out of power for an extended period of time,” Coan said. “The barbecue grills need to stay outside. The generators need to stay outside. It’s really important to make sure these devices are ventilated.”

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