Every household should have working carbon monoxide alarms outside the bedrooms and on every floor in order to protect against poisoning by the colourless, odourless and tasteless gas.

That's the advice of Mark Reshaur, assistant chief of the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service.

"We're most susceptible to the effects of carbon monoxide when we're asleep. You want to hear that alarm and have it wake you up," he said.

A Steinbach couple nearly died in their sleep last week after the alarm closest to their bedroom failed to go off. The alarm downstairs didn't wake them up, but a call from their alarm company eventually roused them and they made it outside.

Reshaur says Manitobans are particularly at risk for carbon monoxide poisoning because we live in a cold-weather climate, and many have fuel-burning furnaces to heat their homes.

"If you have a fuel-burning appliance heating your house, it's producing carbon monoxide," he said, although a properly functioning appliance should be venting the carbon monoxide outside. 

"The fire paramedic service experiences a sharp increase in the calls regarding carbon monoxide at this time of the year. After a period of inactivity, we're all firing up our fireplaces and our furnaces, so this is when the problems are going to turn up."

An alarm is the best way to guard against carbon monoxide poisoning because the symptoms come on gradually and closely resemble the flu, Reshaur says.

According to the Canada Safety Council, early symptoms include light headache, nausea, vomiting and weakness. At higher concentrations, it can cause feelings of mental confusion, severe headache, hearing and vision impairment, dizziness and fainting. If it progresses, it can cause convulsions, unconsciousness and death.

If a carbon monoxide alarm goes off, Reshaur says, get everyone out of the house and call 911.

To reduce the risk of carbon monoxide, Reshaur advises getting your fuel-burning appliances checked by a certified inspector annually. Also make sure that all chimneys and vents are clear of ice and debris and in good working order.

Also, never use outdoor appliances such as barbecues in a confined space, and idle vehicles outside the garage.

In 2016, the WFPS received 630 calls related to carbon monoxide. By Oct. 31 this year, they have received 542.

With files from Caroline Barghout