Basalt fire chief: Don’t gamble with carbon monoxide
December 29, 2009
BASALT – A near-fatal case of carbon monoxide poisoning in Basalt on Christmas Eve should reinforce that people need to install detectors in their homes and call authorities when they are triggered, Basalt Fire Chief Scott Thompson said Monday.
If a carbon monoxide detector is going off, occupants of a house should get out and call 911, Thompson said, even if there is no apparent problem. Carbon monoxide is an odorless, invisible gas that infiltrates the body. Local fire departments will respond to carbon monoxide calls with detectors to check a home, free of charge and regardless of the time of day.
Never assume a carbon detector was triggered because it is malfunctioning. Thompson said detectors make a separate, distinct chirp when they have a low battery. The alarm is an unmistakable racket, he said.
“If it goes off, there’s a reason,” Thompson said. “We want to be notified, and we want to come in and make sure the environment is safe.”
Carbon monoxide detectors are often difficult to distinguish from smoke detectors. Thompson advised calling authorities when an alarm of any type is triggered.
“It doesn’t matter what it looks like. Get out,” he said.
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In last week’s incident in Basalt, a carbon monoxide alarm functioned properly, but a couple mistakenly thought it was a smoke detector that was acting up. Jon and Fran Blum were visiting their family for the holidays and staying in a Basalt home owned by Fran’s son, Ed Freedman. The Blums went out for dinner Wednesday night with another couple. Jon Blum, 75, let out his passengers, then parked a vehicle in the garage attached to the home. He left the ignition on and closed the garage door, Freedman said.
A carbon monoxide detector outside of the Blums’ third-floor bedroom went off later that night, after the couples had gone to bed. It was loud enough to wake the Blums, who both use hearing aids, but they decided to disable it, Freedman said. Jon Blum took the alarm off the ceiling and removed the battery.
The other couple found the Blums unconscious in bed the next morning; they ventilated the home and called 911. The Blums were taken to Aspen Valley Hospital, then to a Denver hospital. They recovered and were back in Aspen in time for Christmas dinner, Freedman said.
Authorities said the Blums were fortunate to survive.
Thompson said there was another recent incident in the midvalley in which a detector saved the lives of a family. The carbon monoxide detector in their house was triggered while they were on vacation in Mexico. Their boiler became detached from its exhaust system, and the house filled with the deadly gas.
Neighbors heard the alarm and called authorities. They investigated, turned off the power and left a note explaining the situation. The homeowners arrived home at night to find a “cold house” but no threat of poisoning, Thompson said. In that case, the presence of the detector likely saved their lives. The family could have gotten home, gone to bed and not realized there was problem without a detector, he said.
“There’s no reason for not having a detector,” Thompson said. Virtually every model sold by hardware stores and home improvement outlets is legitimate, according to Thompson. One detector should be installed per floor, he said, and, most importantly, they should be located near bedrooms.