When the alarm first sounded at Lori McIntosh and Mike Caira’s house on Middleton Mountain in Vernon Monday night, they had no idea how lucky they were.
McIntosh and Caira bought the house about 10 years ago and hadn’t replaced the smoke or carbon monoxide detectors since. Little did they know, they were nearing their expiration date when they were finally put to the test.
Carbon Monoxide (CO) is known as a “silent killer.” It’s an odourless and tasteless gas that is slightly less dense than air. It is toxic when encountered in concentrations above about 35 parts per million (ppm).
“We were extremely lucky,” said Caira. “We knew it was either this year or next that the detectors needed changing. After Monday, I checked and it did say that it needed to be changed in 2018 so thank God it worked. We’re still here because it worked.”
It was about 8:30 p.m. on Nov. 5 and the couple was settling down for the night by watching TV. McIntosh said although she had experienced a migraine for about three days and Caira had been feeling a bit drowsy, they hadn’t thought much of it. The couple, who have a gas fireplace and a furnace, said they started feeling warm so Caira turned off the fire and turned the temperature down.
“It couldn’t have been more than 15 minutes after that when we heard an initial beeping. Your first reaction is to assume its just the battery that is going but then the CO detector upstairs started communicating with the one downstairs because they’re hardwired and alerted us to get out,” said McIntosh. “What I didn’t know about carbon monoxide is that it travels up and you could see that in the ratings once they did their tests.”
After hearing the alarm, Caira called 911 and they, along with their two dogs, evacuated their house until the Coldstream fire department arrived.
“The first firetruck had three guys and of course they break out their CO detector and they were in the house for about three minutes and they had a rating of about 80 or 90 ppm was the first detection and then they came out, put on their protective gear and went back inside and got to the basement and it was 120 ppm.”
Because both were exhibiting symptoms of CO poisoning — namely McIntosh who had a migraine — they were rushed to the hospital in an ambulance, were admitted to the hospital immediately, and had their blood tested and oxygen pumped into their lungs.
Meanwhile, the fire department aired out the house and determined it was safe for them to return home. They were back home by 11 p.m. After further examination Tuesday, the cause was determined as an “environmental accident.”
“In the end, there was really nothing wrong with the furnace or the gas fireplace but because we live on Middleton Mountain they said it was more than likely that it was an air circulation problem as it was coming down [into the house] through the B vent,” said Caira. “So air flowing up and down the mountain blew back down and stopped the CO from escaping and then the furnace circulated it through the house. So it was a fluky thing — an environmental air thing.”
A B-vent gas fireplace is a type of natural draft system that uses a special pipe to carry combustion gases out of your home. They said they have since replaced their detectors and said their next step is to meet with the plumber who installed their fireplaces and discuss changing to a different rain cap over the vent to protect it from that wind coming back down the pipe the same way in the future.
They said they are also taking this as an opportunity to warn others in the community about the dangers of CO and to urge people to check their fire alarms and CO detectors.
“We just bought a new one and ours are hard-wired and battery back-up. For $62 each, they are well worth the investment,” said Caira. “Any new ones are labelled with an expiry date but if they don’t have an expiry date on them then just replace them because they’re old.”
McIntosh took to Facebook Tuesday in an attempt to warn others and said that they amazed by the community response.
Posts like “Very scary — glad you are safe and thanks for the reminder”, “OMG! Glad everyone is ok and you have a CO detector that worked” and “So glad everything worked out. Yes, thank you to our amazing first responders” poured into the comment section of her post. As of Thursday afternoon, the post had 54 comments.
“It was certainly a reminder for us,” added McIntosh. “A very good and very lucky reminder. We just feel so blessed to still be here.”
This story comes in time for the national Carbon Monoxide Awareness Campaign: Detect to Protect. This is a collaboration between Canadian Tire, Kidde Canada, and Scout Environmental, with the support of Health Canada, that brings public awareness to carbon monoxide linked to more than 300 deaths each year in Canada, all preventable. The goal is to educate Canadians about CO and the importance of taking action, such as installing CO alarms in the home and maintain combustion appliances, to protect their health and their families.
McIntosh and Caira are living examples of this. As the colder weather starts to settle in, people use fuel-burning appliances more frequently in order to keep themselves warm. People need to be extremely vigilant when using these appliances to prevent deadly exposure to the serious hazards of carbon monoxide.
In response, all Canadian Tire stores across the country will be offering discounts on CO alarms this November and the Detect to Protect Event Ambassadors will be providing tips on CO prevention in select Canadian Tire locations — as well as offering customers a chance to win prizes via DetectToProtect.ca.
In Vernon, the upcoming in-store event is set to take place this Saturday, Nov. 10 at the Canadian Tire located at 345-4900 27th Street.
Carbon monoxide gas is produced by the incomplete burning of fuels. It can be released by gas furnaces, hot water heaters, cars, fireplaces, wood stoves and kerosene heaters. Faulty burners or clogged chimneys are often part of the problem. Signs and symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning may include a dull headache, weakness, dizziness, nausea or vomiting, shortness of breath, confusion, blurred vision and loss of consciousness.
To avoid the production of CO, people should have their chimney, furnace and gas-fired appliances checked by professional technicians every year.
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