It's starting to get cold in Connecticut, and the arrival of fall means we will soon be closing up our homes and firing up our heating systems, fireplaces and wood burning stoves to warm our homes.

When we use our furnaces and stoves and spend more time indoors, we are at increased risk of exposure to carbon monoxide: an odorless, colorless gas. Every year, hundreds of people die from exposure to carbon monoxide -- deaths that could easily be avoided by taking simple actions to protect ourselves.

Carbon monoxide is produced by burning fuel. Any combustion appliance (i.e., gas furnaces, wood stoves, oil burners, gas ranges or dryers, household generators, and automobiles) produces CO. Early symptoms of CO poisoning can be similar to those of common illnesses, including headaches, nausea, dizziness and fatigue. Since CO is odorless and colorless, and initial symptoms could be mistaken for the flu, an exposed person may not be aware they are being poisoned until it is too late. Unborn babies, infants and those with anemia or heart disease are particularly at risk.

Some steps you can take to protect yourself and your family from CO poisoning:

Make sure appliances are installed and vented according to the manufacturer's instructions and local building codes (permits may be required);

Have heating and ventilation systems (including chimneys) serviced and/or inspected annually;

Be aware of problems that could indicate an appliance is not operating properly, such as a decreasing hot water supply, heaters that do not fully heat a home, burning odors or soot on vents and appliances;

Install CO detectors in your home or apartment (one for each level) and install in accordance with the supplied instructions;

If carbon monoxide poisoning is suspected, get to fresh air immediately and call 911; Fire fighters can respond and monitor for the presence of CO;

If your basement was recently finished, was additional make-up air considered for the heating system?

Never use a gas range or oven for heating your home;

Never leave a car running in an attached garage -- even for 15 seconds;

Never burn charcoal indoors -- even in a vented fireplace;

Never operate unvented fuel-burning appliances indoors unless approved for such use.

For more information on carbon monoxide and other fire safety issues, contact the New Canaan Fire Marshal's Office at 203-594-3030.

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