Cold start = carbon monoxide = calling the fire department

My wife had a doctor’s appointment yesterday morning. Tuesday night, she asked me to put her car in our 1-car garage so it would be warm(er) for her. It had been outside in sub-zero/single-digit temps over the holiday weekend and she wanted it to defrost in the garage.

Every once in a while, our landlord will decide they want to do some random upgrade/maintenance on our townhouse, which they typically let us know about by leaving us a note maybe a few days in advance. A couple months ago, they told us they were installing new locks, and when they did, they also installed carbon monoxide detectors in the basement (which is the garage and utility/laundry room) and first floor, in addition to the one that was already on the second floor.


On Tuesday night, after my wife asked me to swap our cars around, I parked my car outside, then, because it was butt-ass cold, I cold started her car, briefly attempted to use the wipers to clear the couple inches of snow that had piled on it, but gave up on that idea when the wipers refused to budge in the frozen-solid snow, and quickly backed her car into the garage using a combination of the side mirrors and backup camera. I shut off the car and closed the garage ASAP, and noticed the smell of exhaust fumes. I figured, ehh no big deal, I cold started the car and the catalytic converter didn’t have a chance to warm up so it’d smell a little.

Then we settled in to eat leftover Chinese food from Jewish Christmas the night before, and watch It’s A Wonderful Life, which we watch every year on Christmas but didn’t get to do until the 26th because of our hectic Christmas weekend.

After about an hour, the carbon monoxide detector in the basement started beeping. I tried to reset it by holding the button, and it shut off for a moment, but started beeping again. I tried to figure out how the hell to take the thing apart and remove the battery, but of course the landlord didn’t leave any instructions with it, so I decided rather than google the instructions, or try to destroy it, the responsible course of action was to call the fire department.


The dispatcher followed her script of what to say on a carbon monoxide call, which included going outside and leaving the front door open. I was like, “uhh we have 3 cats and we’re not leaving the front door open.” We do have a sliding glass door to our deck, and I could’ve left that open with the screen door closed, except that thought didn’t occur to me while my wife was frantically saying she wasn’t going out in the freezing-ass cold weather, while I was also trying to listen to the dispatcher.

Since the fire station is literally half a mile from my house, a fire truck arrived extremely quickly. I met them outside, told my wife they were coming in, and she encouraged the cats to go upstairs, and closed the bedroom doors to keep them from coming down.


4 firefighters came inside with their full gear including oxygen tanks and handheld carbon monoxide detectors.


I noticed the detectors were doing a lot of beeping and their screens were flashing red so there was in fact a decent amount of carbon monoxide in the house. I told them about how I had put the car in the garage and then closed it right away, so their plan was to confirm the car was the source of the CO by opening up a bunch of windows and doors, which would hopefully lower the levels on their meters, then once the levels approached zero, turn the furnace on to check that it wasn’t the source of the carbon monoxide.

They had us open the garage door, the patio door (with the screen closed), an upstairs window, and after I went to the garage to retrieve our handy cat sequestration baby gate and put it at the top of the stairs, they even opened the front door too. There was a bunch of waiting around and walking up and down stairs with handheld carbon monoxide detectors, and the head firefighter guy noticed the screensaver on the TV showing that we were watching It’s A Wonderful Life, and that he loves that movie. Eventually, after the temp on the thermostat got down to 57 goddamn degrees, they said we could close the windows and turn on the heat.


After all that, the carbon monoxide levels didn’t come back up with the heat on, so they concluded the car was indeed the source of the carbon monoxide, radioed in the all-clear, and left. Oh, but not before scaring our next door neighbors by knocking on their door, still in full gear, and saying they needed to come in to their units to confirm there wasn’t any carbon monoxide.

So yesterday, when my wife suggested I put my car in the garage so it would be warm(er) when I go to work this morning, I said screw it, I don’t care how damn cold it is, I’m going to drive it around the block to let the cats warm up a bit so I don’t have to deal with the stupid carbon monoxide detector again, or slowly kill myself, my wife, and my cats.


Happy winter everyone!

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