Diagnosis of Carbon Monoxide Exposure

Role of first responders in diagnosing CO exposure

The term “first responder” includes a firefighter, law enforcement officer, paramedic, emergency medical technician, or other individual, who, in the course of his or her professional duties, responds to fire, medical, hazardous material, or other similar emergencies.

First responders play a critical role in the diagnosis of carbon monoxide exposure.

In 2015 the Department of Health estimated that around 4,000 people attending Accident and Emergency departments each year in the UK are diagnosed with carbon monoxide poisoning.

Read more about the Department of Health study.

However, accurate numbers are difficult to determine because the signs and symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are very similar to other common illnesses and as such, are easily misdiagnosed.


In 2015 the CO Research Trust funded a study which aimed to provide evidence as to whether carbon monoxide screening by Paramedics attending patients in their home could be effectively carried out, and so become part of the routine observations that are undertaken.

The study found a number of patients had been exposed to carbon monoxide at levels which would not have been suspected at the point of the 999 ambulance call.

It also found that ambulance clinicians would appreciate greater awareness of carbon monoxide, and supported the case for pre-hospital carbon monoxide monitoring.

Read more about this study, which was undertaken by the East of England Ambulance Service.


The CO Research Trust has funded several projects involving firefighters.

In 2017 the West Midlands and Merseyside Fire Services supported a research project carried out at Lancaster University.

The goal of the project was to assist the understanding of whether low-level and long-term carbon monoxide exposure can be a risk factor in neurological disorders such as dementia.

The fire services took part in gathering data on low levels of carbon monoxide present in the homes of older adults.

Watch project lead Beth Cheshire talk about the research and the conclusions below.

The Trust has recently launched a project with London Fire Brigade (LFB) to carry out research into carbon monoxide levels on houseboats.

Boats have small living spaces, much the same size as a small bedsit. However, they are also sealed containers, essential for keeping water out, but also equally effective at retaining gases and fumes.

Many boats have multiple potential sources of fire and carbon monoxide. They may also have multiple engines and appliances for cooking, heating and lighting. Some of these will be powered on or in use whilst occupants are sleeping.

London Fire Brigade (LFB) carry out over 83,000 Home Fire Safety Visits (HFSV) to residents of London every year. Houseboat owners are residents of London, albeit some on a temporary basis.

This research project aims to give a much more informed picture of carbon monoxide levels on houseboats in London. The aim is to carry out project-tailored HFSVs for houseboat residents in London.

This will not only make them more aware of the risks of carbon monoxide and fire, but also identify whether there are any identifiable trends, such as a seasonal variation in carbon monoxide levels. It will also create a clearer picture of the demographics of London’s houseboat population.

Read more about this project here.