The Unexpected Golf Cart Hazard

It's just after midnight when the alarm sounds for a carbon monoxide detector activation. Dispatch reports that the residents have left the home.


It's just after midnight when the alarm sounds for a carbon monoxide detector activation. Dispatch reports that the residents have left the home. The crew shuffles from bed; there?s no rush since CO alarms are "non-emergency" once residents have evacuated. The address is noted and the engine heads out. The night is clear with a distinct chill in the air. Upon arrival Mr. and Mrs. Homeowner, wearing bedclothes, are standing in the driveway wrapped in blankets.

Sure enough, the CO detector is actively sounding. The shift lieutenant speaks to Mr. Homeowner and notes that the home, a two-bedroom patio villa, is an entirely electric home. There is no gas heat and no gas appliances. In fact, the home isn?t even piped for gas. The alarm activation is, most likely, the result of a faulty detector.

But, being the ever-vigilant fire officer, the lieutenant orders his crew of three to don SCBA and proceed through the house with the gas detector. Shortly thereafter, one of the firefighters reports a CO reading in the garage of nearly 40 parts per million. Whoa!

Total home ventilation is effected, the attic space is checked and one of the firefighters does a "walk around" of the entire home perimeter. Mr. and Mrs. Homeowner are asked about how they felt, the alarm activation, and any activities in the home that might have set off the detector.

No, they hadn't been burning any candles. No, they hadn't done any late-night charbroiling in the oven. No, they hadn't done anything unusual. In fact, they had been away from the house for several hours, returning at about 10 P.M. Shortly after being dropped off by friends, they went to bed. They were awakened from a sound sleep by the detector.

Come to think of it, yes, they both had a slight headache and had felt a bit queasy when they awoke. But since they had been outside now for nearly 15 minutes, the headache and nausea was almost gone. The lieutenant directed one of the paramedic/firefighters to do medical assessments of both homeowners who were now being considered patients.

Re-evaluation of the garage still showed a significant concentration of CO. But what could be causing the elevated level? The garage contained an automobile, electric golf cart and charger, washer and electric dryer, a few laundry products, and some gardening equipment. The hot water tank and heating/air conditioning system, both totally electric, were also in the garage.

Back to Mr. and Mrs. Homeowner for more Q & A. Was the car used this evening? No, they had gone out with friends. The car hadn?t left the garage in more than 24 hours.

Was the house closed up and the heat on? Yes. The outside temperature was in the mid 50's. The heat had been on all evening.

Was the golf cart used? Mr. Homeowner had played golf earlier in the day and had used the cart. When he returned around 1 P.M. the cart had been parked in it?s usual spot near the heating system and plugged in to the charger. It had been on charge continuously since that time.

Hearing that answer, the firefighter who had conducted the home sweep with the gas detector reported to the lieutenant that the CO reading had been at its highest right near the golf cart and heating system.

Okay, but lead-acid battery charging did not produce CO. So, why the significant carbon monoxide reading? A puzzle to be sure. But since the hour was late, the home was secure, CO levels had dropped to near zero after ventilation, and the residents felt fine (declining any treatment or transport), the call was terminated. The cart was unplugged and the homeowners were instructed to call 911 if there was any further problem.

The call may have been concluded, but the problem wasn?t solved. The incident was recorded and logged with similar situations. In each of those similar situations, CO detectors had been activated in homes with electric golf carts being charged. It was time to do some digging. What was the correlation between golf cart charging and CO detector activation? Why would this be a problem in The Villages?

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