Carbon monoxide detector saves the day at area daycareA carbon monoxide (CO) detector alerted daycare providers of a problem inside a Cloquet residence on the afternoon of Tuesday, July 10, averting a potential tragedy.
By: Wendy Johnson, Pine Journal
A carbon monoxide (CO) detector alerted daycare providers of a problem inside a Cloquet residence on the afternoon of Tuesday, July 10, averting a potential tragedy.
According to Chief Kevin Schroeder of the Cloquet Area Fire District, crews responded to Pocket Full of Posies Daycare in the 900 block of16th Street, where homeowners Andy and Dawn French reported that their alarm was sounding so they vacated the residence.
“Fortunately,” said Dawn, “both my teenage daughter and husband were home at that time of day when they normally wouldn’t have been, so they helped get the kids out very quickly when the alarm went off.”
It was to be a day of coincidences for the French family, however. When Dawn tried to phone 911 after the alarm activated, she discovered the phone wasn’t working after a sewer contractor in Proctor accidentally severed a CenturyLink communications line. Her cell phone didn’t work, either, but her husband discovered that he did have cell service on his phone and was able to make the call.
Dawn said she was amazed at how fast emergency responders arrived at their house – in only about a minute and a half.
Firefighters responding to the call entered the split level home, and their portable gas monitors automatically alerted them to high levels of CO. Crews later discovered CO levels registering at 84 parts per million (ppm) in the upstairs level of the residence and 138 ppm in the lower level, levels high enough, Schroeder said, to likely have created health issues within a period of hours. In general, a CO concentration of 100 parts per million can often cause sickness after eight hours of exposure.
Fire crews went into the downstairs area of the house and turned off the hot water heater. In the days prior to the incident, the Frenches said they had detected a strange gas smell in the house. Though CO is odorless, Schroeder said it may have been caused by a combustion issue in the water heater that was causing the smell. The homeowner had brought in a contractor to check it out, and no problem with the water heater was detected at that time.
“It’s one of those things that doesn’t necessarily show up at the time when you have someone in to look at it,” said Schroeder. “Sometimes it only occurs when the hot water heater is actually in use.”
In any case, the contractor advised the Frenches to update their home’s aging CO detector. Acting on that advice right away, Dawn texted her husband and asked him to pick up a new one on the way home from work that night. They installed it the very next morning – only about five hours before it went off at the time of the incident.
“They did everything right,” said Schroeder, indicating that without the advance warning from a detector residents can experience debilitating health issues before ever becoming aware there is a problem.
Dawn said the reading on their new CO detector was registering exactly the same as the reading the firefighters logged on their equipment, so she said it was “very reassuring” to know it was accurate.
An ambulance also responded to the scene to evaluate the homeowners and the 10 children who were present in the daycare at the time of the incident, who were taken to Community Memorial Hospital for evaluation. All were found to have no ill effects from the CO.
The residence was ventilated and the homeowner’s heating and cooling contractor was contacted to correct the situation with the water heater. Dawn said all of the parents and families of the daycare children were very understanding of the situation and grateful for a positive outcome.
Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless and toxic gas. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, at lower levels of exposure, CO causes mild effects that are often mistaken for the flu. These symptoms include headaches, dizziness, disorientation, nausea and fatigue. At higher concentrations, impaired vision and coordination, headaches, dizziness, confusion and nausea can result. Exposure to CO can be fatal at very high concentrations. The effects of CO exposure can vary greatly from person to person depending on age, overall health and the concentration and length of exposure.
“When something like this happens,” reflected Dawn the week following the incident, “at first it doesn’t seem like such a big deal as long as we got all of the kids out safely and in time. But it is kind of scary, thinking back and wondering, ‘What if?’”
She encouraged homeowners to consider installing or updating their CO detectors, saying even though they may appear to be in working order, they do lose their effectiveness over time.