As Winter Cools Down, Carbon Monoxide Deaths Rise
Washoe County Medical Examiner & Fire Chief Warn Public, Share Tips

Media Release
For Immediate Release

Contact: Amy Ventetuolo

Reno, Nev. Jan. 30, 2018. Earlier this month the Washoe County Medical Examiner’s Office saw the worst kind of case – a preventable death. A 20-year-old Washoe County resident died from accidental poisoning from carbon monoxide. The young man fell asleep in the cab of a truck with a running propane heater. Washoe County Chief Medical Examiner, Dr. Laura Knight, indicates that sadly she has seen this before.

“Use of a propane space heater or gasoline-powered tools in enclosed spaces, without ventilation, can lead to death by build-up of toxic fumes which contain carbon monoxide,” states Dr. Laura Knight, Washoe County Medical Examiner and Coroner.  The Washoe County Regional Medical Examiner’s Office is currently investigating two additional January deaths in the region that may be related to use of propane-fueled space heaters in enclosed spaces like campers or RVs.  

Dr. Knight urges it is important to understand that propane heaters, grills, gas-powered generators, and other combustion-fueled devices must not be used indoors or in any enclosed space. “Propane tank-mounted radiant heaters and portable forced-air propane and kerosene heaters are for outdoor use only. Never use these devices indoors or in an enclosed space like a vehicle or camper and never go to sleep with such a device running,” advises Dr. Knight.

The signs of carbon monoxide poisoning:

  • Symptoms include include dizziness, headache, and nausea, followed by becoming comatose. 
  • If you think you may be affected by carbon monoxide, turn off the device and move to an outdoor area with fresh air immediately.
  • Seek medical attention if symptoms persist. 
  • Do not allow anyone, but especially children or pets, to sleep near outdoor-only propane space heaters.

The Truckee Meadows Fire Protection District, Chief Charles Moore, also has seen first-hand the dangers of heaters used improperly. “This time of year we consistently try keep the public aware of safe heater use. With more cold weather set to hit our area, heater use increases and we want to ensure the public knows how to safely work heaters and heating devices,” says Chief Moore.

Tips for safe heater use:

  • A common cause of structure fires in the area occur with the cold weather and people using heating devices. 
  • Always check your heating device to ensure it is in good working condition before use.
  • Always plug the heaters directly into the wall – it may seem counterintuitive, but never use a surge protector or an extension cord for your heating device. 
  • Never leave the house with any devices left plugged in.

If you or a loved one think you may have been exposed to carbon monoxide poisoning or experienced any fire danger, please call 9-1-1 immediately. If you have non-emergency questions about how to use a space heater safely, please contact the Washoe County customer service center, Washoe 311, by dialing 3-1-1 from any phone


Call 311 to find resources, ask questions, and utilize Washoe County services. Learn More »
Call 311 to find resources, ask questions, and utilize Washoe County services. Learn More »