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Carbon Monoxide

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Three stricken by furnace gas

Thursday, January 16, 2003
By MARGARET ELLIS, Columbian staff writer

Three people overcome by carbon monoxide poisoning were found unconscious Wednesday morning inside a house at 2201 Thompson Ave.

A man in his mid-40s, a woman in her 20s and a girl, 11, were rushed to Legacy Emanuel Hospital, where they were listed in critical condition Wednesday afternoon. The man and woman were unable to breathe on their own.

The Vancouver Fire Department is not releasing the names of the victims, who were house-sitting, and doesn't know specifically how they are related.

The house's furnace was malfunctioning, according to fire officials. Instead of venting carbon monoxide outside, it flooded the rooms with the odorless and colorless gas.

"It will put you to sleep, and it will kill you in your sleep," said Deputy Fire Marshal Virginia Chapman of carbon monoxide.

The woman staying at the house called a relative Tuesday evening and said she wasn't feeling well. When her relative called back, no one answered. She asked her granddaughter to check on the family.

The granddaughter, 17, went to the home just before 8 a.m. Wednesday. She was overwhelmed by the smell of natural gas inside the house and found that she couldn't wake them.

The granddaughter, who only speaks Spanish, ran to the house of a neighbor who she knew was bilingual.

"I walked one step in the door and got dizzy myself. I stepped out and held my breath before I went back in," said the neighbor, who didn't want to give her name. "It was a thick smell," she said.

They found the two adults asleep and were unable to wake them. The 11-year-old had vomited but was still unconscious.

They carried the younger girl outside and opened windows to the bedroom, where the adults were sleeping, and waited for help to arrive.

Paramedics could smell natural gas from the street when they approached the house.

Chapman urges anyone with gas appliances to buy a carbon monoxide detector.

Detectors approved by Underwriters Laboratory will sound an alarm when the carbon monoxide level rises above 70 parts per million. Firefighters estimated the level in the home at 200 ppm.

The three victims are undergoing hyperbaric oxygen therapy. They will be enclosed in a chamber and administered oxygen at a higher than normal pressure, which allows the body to recover and heal faster.

 

HOME CHECKLIST

Carbon monoxide is produced by natural gas appliances and when wood, coal and other products burn. It's colorless and odorless. Some symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are shortness of breath, dizziness and vomiting.

* Make sure natural gas appliances are inspected regularly by a qualified technician. NW Natural gas service personnel perform such inspections free of charge.

* Make sure that vents and chimneys are installed properly and inspected regularly for rust, improper connections or stains.

* Never use the gas range or oven for home heating.

* Keep chimneys and vents free of debris, such as leaves, creosote and nests.

* Make sure heating equipment and appliances are installed correctly and maintained.

* Signs of a possible problem include a furnace that runs constantly or that is unable to heat the house; a burning or odd odor; moisture on the inside of windows and soot buildup.

-- NW Natural

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