Detector, concerned neighbor save coupleThe beep of a carbon monoxide detector can save lives, as Josh and Jeannie Walker of Jamestown learned when their furnace pumped the poisonous gas into their rented duplex in March.
By: Kari Lucin, The Jamestown Sun
By Kari Lucin
The Jamestown Sun
The beep of a carbon monoxide detector can save lives, as Josh and Jeannie Walker of Jamestown learned when their furnace pumped the poisonous gas into their rented duplex in March.
“It could happen to anyone,” said Josh, whose malfunctioning furnace nearly killed him and his wife. “My whole family went out and bought (detectors) after this.”
Carbon monoxide gas is colorless, odorless and tasteless, produced from incomplete burning of natural gas or other materials.
Sources of carbon monoxide include car engines, broken or incorrectly vented furnaces, water heaters, blocked fireplace chimneys and gas-fired appliances such as grills.
Particularly at risk are welders, garage mechanics, firefighters, police officers, taxi drivers, forklift operators and toll booth or tunnel attendants, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
Propane-heated fish houses need exchange units that will move air in and out of the space, or open up windows. Gas grills shouldn’t be used indoors — they need to be vented to the outside, said Fire Chief Jim Reuther of the Jamestown Fire Department.
People shouldn’t ever leave a car running inside a garage, even if the garage door is open, because wind can blow the carbon monoxide right back into the building — and, potentially, into the home.
At one point, that’s what the Jamestown Fire Department suspected had happened in the Walker house.
“I had just moved in here a few months before that. My wife had already lived here,” Josh said.
Not long after Josh had moved in, the Walkers smelled something odd in the house — a smell like burning plastic. They looked around and tried to find the source of the smell.
Though carbon monoxide has no odor, it can mix with other gases that do have a scent, according to information from OSHA.
Eventually, Josh and Jeannie decided the odd scent was probably coming from the adjoining house, and because both of them felt exhausted, they went to bed.
They woke up to the sound of someone frantically pounding on the door and ringing the doorbell, over and over again. The Walkers, worried about an attacker and unable to identify the knocking person because of a burned-out porch light, called the police.
When the police arrived, the Walkers discovered the person knocking on the door was actually their neighbor from the other half of the condominium, Logan Adams, whose carbon monoxide detector had gone off at 3 a.m.
Adams had also called the Jamestown Fire Department, which started checking out the building upon arrival.
“If it hadn’t been for him, we’d be dead,” Josh said.
According to Josh, the JFD found a carbon monoxide concentration of 500 parts per million in the Walker half of the building.
“They didn’t understand how we were alive,” he said.
At levels of 200 parts per million, carbon monoxide causes headaches, tiredness, dizziness, and nausea after two to three hours.
At 400 parts per million, victims get more intense headaches within an hour or two, and exposure is life-threatening after three hours.
The Walkers had been home longer than that, and they were suffering the classic symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning — tiredness, headaches and flulike symptoms. Josh recalls not being able to think clearly, and a feeling of pressure underneath his eyes.
“The kids weren’t there that night, but if they had been, guaranteed, it would have gotten them. They’re right above the vent,” Josh said.
The Walkers aren’t sure how long the poisoning had been going on before that night, but it may have been months, possibly even since the furnace was turned on in the fall.
Neither of them had been able to shake their tiredness and headaches for a long period before the incident in March.
“You just couldn’t think clearly. It really did affect our brains quite a bit,” Josh said, adding that carbon monoxide poisoning had never occurred to either of them.
Their rental home’s furnace had been installed in the 1980s, Josh said, and it had been rusted through.
He recalled the firefighter with the carbon monoxide meter stepping into the door and then immediately turning around to get outside again after seeing the level of the gas — he couldn’t enter the house without a self-contained breathing apparatus.
That’s a requirement, Reuther said.
Now the Walkers have two carbon monoxide detectors, one downstairs, and one upstairs.
“It’s a cheap investment and you’d be surprised what it could save,” Josh said.
A carbon monoxide detector could save lives.
It could also mean not having to leave the house for three days while it airs out, and not having to supply medical documentation to an employer for days missed.
It could mean not having to pay $2,000 for medical costs, like the Walkers did, as their insurance picked up the other half of the bill. It could mean not having to be put on oxygen for four hours at the hospital, like the Walkers were.
The Walkers’ experience has had long-term effects on their health, Josh said. Both still get headaches more often than usual, and both tire more easily than they did before the incident.
And for a long time afterward, they left the windows open when the new furnace was on, just in case.
“We didn’t want to take a chance with the kids coming home,” Josh said.
People should call 911 and exit the building if there’s any question of carbon monoxide poisoning, so that the JFD can check the scene. There is no bill to a homeowner.
“By the time you know you have carbon monoxide poisoning, you’re going to be sick,” Reuther warned.
He recommended people get their furnaces inspected by professionals before turning them on for the season.
Josh’s extended family has purchased carbon monoxide detectors since the incident, and one of them found he had a malfunctioning fireplace producing the poison.
“Lives can be saved. To me, that’s the most important part,” Josh said.
Sun reporter Kari Lucin can be reached at 701-952-8453 or by email at email@example.com