Two Die, Others Poisoned in Dayton Carbon Monoxide Incidents

Carbon monoxide is not a virus–it does not spread through proximity. But failure to have functioning alarms continues to be endemic as a string of bad Dayton carbon monoxide deaths and poisonings shows.

Editor’s Note: Everyone seems to understand the importance of a smoke detector in a place that people sleep, but carbon monoxide alarms are even more critical, even in places people don’t sleep. The incidence of people who are awake being surprised by smoke is far less common than carbon monoxide. Our bodies senses are fully capable of alerting us to smoke. Sit by a campfire on a night with a shifting winds. It doesn’t take long before you realize you have to move if the smoke is blowing at you. Your eyes water, your nose acts out; at some point you would start to cough. Carbon monoxide alarms are far more necessary as the body doesn’t have these clear responses to CO, because it is odorless, tasteless and doesn’t alert the senses to its existence. Even those who are awake may not realize they are being poisoned until it is too late. 

By Rebecca Martin

On Friday, February 10, Robert Choice, age 49, was found deceased in his home in Dayton, Ohio. Carbon monoxide poisoning was the suspected cause of death. Investigators found high levels of carbon monoxide in his west side home. The home had to be ventilated for the coroner to enter. Two days later, February 12, firefighters and medics were called to a home on Speice Avenue where it was reported that a woman was unresponsive.  Again, high levels of carbon monoxide were detected by investigators. The woman, Mulumebit Dejene, age 65, was transported to the hospital where she later died. It was confirmed by the coroner that she had died due to high levels of carbon monoxide in her system. For more on brain damage from carbon monoxide poisoning, click here.

Dayton carbon monoxide deaths and injuries

Missing carbon monoxide alarms result in Dayton Carbon Monoxide deaths and injuries. Alarms are the last line of defense but shouldn’t be the only one. Annual maintenance of fuel burning appliances by trained professionals is a must.

On Saturday, February 11, six people were transported from their Dayton home due to suspected carbon monoxide poisoning. Their home also needed to be ventilated to allow emergency responders to enter.

It is verified that in the case of the deceased carbon monoxide victims that no carbon monoxide detectors were observed in either home.

John Gipson, a friend of Robert Choice, the first victim, stated

“These houses out here, we all have older furnaces and everything so to get a carbon monoxide tester out here is very, very important. It doesn’t make any difference out here [in this area], new homes, old homes, you need to have that in your house,”

I (Rebecca Martin) recently moved into an older home. The last thing I packed up was our CO detector and the first thing unpacked was our CO detector.  The next thing was installing a new smoke detector. Once those things were in place in the hallway between the two bedrooms in our new home, I knew we could sleep a little more secure. Obviously writing about the dangers of carbon monoxide I have been instilled with an awareness as to the importance of those devices in protecting home and family. The question is: How do we drastically increase public awareness and instill in everyone that any place that one sleeps, whether for a night or for years, should be monitored by a carbon monoxide detector(s) as well as a smoke alarm(s)?

We often hear of carbon monoxide referred to as the Silent Killer but perhaps what is needed is a louder call about the dangers of this very real killer which is linked to any fuel burning device in our homes.

In Dayton, free carbon monoxide detectors are available by calling the Dayton Fire Department. They will even install them for free. So, why do we continue to see injuries and deaths due to carbon monoxide poisoning?

Coming Months Could be Deadly

Recently, we saw Texas reporting carbon monoxide injuries due to generators being used during yet another massive power outage. Some of the patients, possibly including children, had to be airlifted to hospitals. A spokesperson for the Austin-Travis County EMS, Capt. Darren Noak noted:

“carbon monoxide poisoning from improper use of generators appeared to have increased this year compared with winter storms of the past.”

Despite continuing news coverage of carbon monoxide injuries and deaths during the colder months, the incidence of those injuries and deaths does not seem to be decreasing.

I think that some realization must come of the reality of the situation. We tend to address the problem by holding potential victims responsible for their own safety. Improper use of generators removes the responsibility of generator manufacturers to address the problem. Generators can be equipped with built-in sensors which trigger an automatic shut off if high levels of carbon monoxide build up. And some generators have engines which produce less CO according to Consumer Reports.

“Recent CR test data show that these safety features are likely to save lives. That’s why we’ve revamped our portable generator ratings to reward models that have new safety features—and penalize those that don’t. Consumer Reports no longer recommends any portable generator that doesn’t include at least one of these safety features.”

Landlord Negligence for Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

We have seen in previous incidents that in the case of landlords who neglect maintenance of fuel-burning devices such as furnaces or hot water heaters, even if inspections are conducted often there are few consequences for mismanagement of those devices until someone is injured or dies. If violations are discovered, the fines for those violations are often acceptable to the wrongdoer, if they are collected at all. Passing new building code requirements for carbon monoxide detectors in housing is sometimes ignored, as we have even seen in some instances of public housing. It seems logical that any inspection of a boiler system should include an inspection of existing CO detectors.

At least every year, a landlord has an obligation to have a professional HVAC person inspect and service every furnace or boiler. Summer or early fall is best because it is between heating seasons. Any deterioration in the appliance and pipes can be identified and repaired and if the unit is beyond its useful life, there is time to replace it before unit is needed for heat.

All furnaces and boilers should be replaced at least every 20 years. Check the manufacturer’s recommendations, but almost all fuel burning appliances should be replaced at least that often. ACCA standards call for every 18 years.

All Rentals Must Container Carbon Monoxide Detectors

Landlords have a greater duty to protect their tenants than they do for themselves. Personal responsibility notwithstanding, a landlord has the core responsibility to protect his or her tenants. It is one thing for a person to refuse to wear a motorcycle helmet. It is quite another to removed it from a child. A tenant is not allowed to do any maintenance of HVAC appliances and has the right to believe that the landlord has fully complied with the law when they move in. Laws require landlords to provide carbon monoxide alarms and if they are not there, the landlord could be found to be criminally negligent for injuries or deaths. Failure to follow the law on detectors is negligence per se. Meaning that the law defines the negligence and the violation of the law creates the negligence.

But let’s wind back to the homeowner who succumbs to CO poisoning. In many places CO detectors are available to the community free of charge. In the specific instance of Dayton, they can be installed free as well. So cost is not the hurdle here. Nor is the ability to physically travel to pick them up. In general, inexpensive carbon monoxide detectors are available everywhere. What is lacking is a public awareness to just how deadly carbon monoxide can be and how any home with fuel burning devices is at risk.

Whether a home is old or new, vents can become clogged, malfunctions can happen. And sometimes, in particularly adverse weather situations, people respond improperly. They may attempt to heat homes with gas stoves or other dangerous methods. The is a very real occurrence that anyone should be able to comprehend. Desperation is sometimes counterintuitive to common sense.

You may be required to get emissions tests on your vehicles to meet your state’s legal limits for pollutants. But your furnace does not come with that requirement. The penalty for not maintaining a furnace is voiding the warranty from the manufacturer. There are no monetary consequences for neglecting maintenance beyond that. Unless you consider the safety of those who live under your roof.

Some homeowners may have a false sense of security because their furnaces are fairly new but a 1997 article by a housing engineer with Iowa State University Extension, Thomas H. Greiner, warns that problems with new furnaces can be related often to improper installation.

“Several case studies from the Iowa State University Extension show that carbon monoxide hazards exist even with new gas appliances. Proper installation and analysis are key to avoiding or solving these problems.”

Many of the case studies recounted in this article involve families who have experienced ongoing health issues without suspecting that the incorrect installation of their furnaces was to blame.

Some of the signs that a furnace or boiler is not working correctly are

  • Abnormal smells that do not dissipate
  • Difficulty starting the unit
  • Discolored pilot light (a proper pilot light is blue)
  • The furnace cycling on and off rather than completing a heating cycle
  • Inadequate heat
  • Moisture buildup in certain rooms in the house
  • Unusual noises such as banging, groaning, whistling or squealing
  • Bad air quality. (Floating dust or problems with allergies, coughs, colds and respiratory ailments).
  • A sudden spike in utility bills
  • And finally, a tripped CO detector

Another thing to check for are rusted flues which may be leaking CO back into the home.

In the end, it is community outreach that is of the utmost importance. CO may be the Silent Killer but we can’t be silent about CO awareness. These Dayton Carbon monoxide deaths and injuries illustrate that CO poisonings come in waves and only proper HVAC maintenance and CO alarms can save people from this vicious toxin.

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