Garden City, KS – When 80-year-old Barb Sprenkle moved to Garden City earlier this year, one of her daughters insisted she get a carbon monoxide detector for her home.

Though Sprenkle did not think it was necessary because it would end up annoying her, the detector ended up saving her life.

Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless and tasteless gas that is toxic to humans and can cause death in minutes. It is a byproduct of burning fossil fuels such as natural gas and propane and can build up if a burner isn’t working correctly or appliance isn’t properly vented.

Three of her daughters — Cindy Maestas, Kathy Foster and Pam Bryan — were in their mom’s backyard in late May when they heard the detector go off.

Neither daughter nor Sprenkle knew where the sound was coming from, or if the noise was emitting from the house.

“We could hear a beeping noise, but we didn’t know where the sound was coming from,” Maestas said.

When one of her sisters went into the home, she heard the high pitch but just thought the detector was malfunctioning.

Maestas tried to get the detector to stop beeping, and while she could get it to stop for a minute or two, the high-pitched, nonstop beeping would return.

“My first thought was that the sound was annoying,” Maestas said. “I thought, ‘what’s wrong with it?’”

Maestas called Black Hills Energy to get their advice, and was told to get everyone out of the house immediately.

When a Black Hills technician arrived at the front door, he knew there was a problem because his detector told him carbon monoxide was close by.

As he approached the water heater in the home, the level on his gauge increased dramatically.

The water heater turned out to be a very old one that should have been replaced.

Maestas said the technician told them that in all of his years of testing for carbon monoxide he had never seen a home with such a high level.

He also said that without the detector to warn them, all four could have died.

Because her mom has been living in the home with carbon monoxide present, they had her tested and she turned out to be OK.

“If we had not gotten that detector, my mom and I would not have made it,” she said.

According to information from Black Hills Energy, there are several carbon monoxide indicators people should be aware of inside their homes, including:

• Soot buildup on or near a fireplace or furnace chimney.

• A pilot light that keeps going out.

• Discolored gas burners.

• Excessive humidity such as heavily frosted windows.

• Fireplaces that smoke or won’t draw.

• Physical symptoms such as a headache, nausea, coughing, ringing in the ears, smarting eyes, a ruddy complexion, light-headedness and drowsiness.

Signs of light exposure include light headaches, nausea, vomiting, and fatigue (flu-like symptoms).

Throbbing headaches, drowsiness, confusion, rapid heart rate and irregular breathing are symptoms of medium exposure.

Extreme exposure can result in convulsions, unconsciousness, heart and lung failure and brain damage. These extreme exposure symptoms can result in death.

Black Hills Energy Community Affairs Manager Monique Pope said the best way to keep safe is to have carbon monoxide detectors installed in the home. She pointed to Sprenkle and her daughters as proof on their importance.

If a carbon monoxide problem is suspected, leave the home and call Black Hills Energy’s emergency number 1-800-694-8989.