Most people wouldn’t think of going to bed night after night without the protection afforded by smoke detectors. Indeed, more than 95 percent of homes nationwide have fire alarms, and they are required in all lodging facilities. It’s easy to see why. For the cost of a couple of movie tickets, you can cut the risk of dying in a fire by half.

The same life-saving effectiveness can be applied to carbon monoxide detectors, which have the added benefit of sensing a gas that, unlike fire, is undetectable by human senses. Unfortunately, carbon monoxide detectors don’t enjoy nearly the popularity of smoke alarms.

Sen. Bill Diamond, D-Windham, is working with Maine firefighters to change that. Diamond sponsored Maine’s first regulations regarding carbon monoxide detectors in 2009, and he plans to submit a bill soon to expand those rules.

State law now requires detectors in hotels built or renovated since Aug. 1, 2012; all newly built single-family homes as well as those sold since 2012; and all multi-family and rental housing, without exception. Diamond’s proposal, which is backed by Professional Fire Fighters of Maine, would add all single-family dwellings as well as all hotels, motels, inns, bed and breakfasts, fraternity or sorority houses and dormitories to the list.

The aim is to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning, which according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention kills more than 400 Americans each year, with the highest rates among those 65 or older, while sending more than 20,000 people to the emergency room. In Maine, CO poisoning deaths typically fluctuate between zero and five per year.

The law appears to be having a positive effect. In 2008, there were 153 emergency room visits in Maine attributed to CO poisoning, but just 93 in 2010 and 97 in 2011, the last year from which figures are available. The percentage of rental units with detectors jumped from 34 percent before the laws were put in place to 69 percent by last year.

That, however, leaves almost a third of all rental units without inexpensive and potentially life-saving detectors. The same is true for 36 percent of single-family homes, as well as most of the older hotels, motels and inns in Maine.

There were no detectors at an Ogunquit resort where earlier this year a broken pipe on a propane furnace sent carbon monoxide to multiple rooms. Fortunately, no one died, though 21 guests were treated for carbon monoxide poisoning, with seven requiring a trip to the hospital.

Unfortunately, it often takes a tragedy to spur calls for stricter regulations. Diamond’s 2009 bill, in fact, received increased attention after a Colorado family with Maine ties died from carbon monoxide poisoning from a faulty heater.

Incidents like that show that while carbon monoxide poisoning affects a relatively small number of people, the impact is often devastatingly tragic, and usually wholly avoidable.

The state shouldn’t add new regulations lightly, and there are reasonable concerns about the cost of mandating the more-expensive hard-wired detectors. But Maine shouldn’t wait for a fatal gas leak to get people the same protection from carbon monoxide as they do now from fire.

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