Fire department credits working CO alarms for saving the lives of a Perth County family

The West Perth and Perth East fire departments are reminding residents that carbon monoxide detectors save lives after a Perth East family narrowly escaped a potentially deadly situation last week.

The Lindner family of the Township of Perth East narrowly avoided a potentially fatal scenario last week thanks to two working carbon monoxide detectors in their home. Submitted photo

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An exhaust pipe next to an open basement window could have led to tragedy for a Perth East family last week had it not been for two working carbon monoxide detectors.

Perth East and West Perth firefighters rushed to a call for help from the Lindner family mid-afternoon on Thursday, May 21.

“Crews attended. They found the family outside (their home), so mom, dad and three kids were outside waiting for us,” fire prevention officer James Marshall said. “They had two carbon monoxide alarms installed in the house. When one started going off, they switched the alarms to see if it was a faulty alarm.

“The second alarm started going off and they exited the house and called 911.”

Fire crews, wearing face masks and other personal protective equipment in the family’s home, quickly learned a gas-powered wood-splitter – its exhaust pointed toward an open basement window – had been operating for a few hours prior to firefighters arriving on scene.

“With the wind conditions, the exhaust was blowing into the house,” Marshall said. “It was a nice beautiful day and the carbon monoxide was pulled into the house by the wind conditions and the machinery that was there. … If the wind hadn’t been blowing the way it was, helping to draw the exhaust into the house, there would not have been any problems.

“But at the same time, if they didn’t have any carbon monoxide alarms in their home … with the three young kids in the house, it certainly could have been much worse.”

A colourless, odourless and tasteless gas, carbon monoxide can be produced by burning gasoline, wood, propane, charcoal or other fuels. Improperly ventilated appliances and engines, particularly in a tightly sealed or enclosed space, can allow carbon monoxide to accumulate to dangerous – and potentially fatal – levels.

Carbon monoxide poisoning can cause symptoms ranging from headaches, nausea, vomiting and confusion to loss of consciousness and death. According to Marshall, smaller adults and children often feel and succumb to the effects of carbon monoxide poisoning before larger people.

Luckily, the Lindner family had planned ahead and installed carbon monoxide detectors in the basement and near the home’s bedrooms.

“He started working (with the wood splitter) at 1 p.m. We got the call at 3:30 p.m., and the (carbon monoxide) levels were already reaching dangerous levels,” Marshall said. “They were reaching three times the limit that a carbon monoxide alarm would go off at. … There’s no telling what the scenario could have been, which is why it’s imperative to have these CO alarms to have a happy ending like this.”

Marshall is asking residents to seriously consider installing carbon monoxide detectors in their homes – near bedrooms and areas where carbon monoxide may be produced, such as furnace rooms and garages – and to change the batteries in CO and smoke alarms regularly.

“Certainly where this family is, out in a rural area, if they’re not alerting themselves and getting themselves out, either during a heavy carbon-monoxide leak or a fire, that’s their only opportunity to get out,” said Marshall, suggesting neighbours are less likely to come to the rescue in less populated areas.

Provincial legislation that came into effect in 2017 actually makes carbon monoxide detectors mandatory in all Ontario homes., requiring the life-saving devices near bedrooms and in the service rooms of apartment buildings. Passed in the wake of the tragic deaths of a Woodstock family, the law has been credited with saving dozens of lives.

For more information on installing carbon monoxide and smoke detectors, call Marshall at 519-274-3898.