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Harrisonburg family rescued from lethal levels of carbon monoxide

(WHSV)
Published: May. 26, 2020 at 10:38 AM EDT
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A family of six was rescued from carbon monoxide poisoning in a Harrisonburg home on Tuesday morning.

According to the Harrisonburg Fire Department, 911 dispatchers got a call around 5:15 a.m. on the morning after Memorial Day from a home in the 1700 block of Buttonwood Court.

Firefighters responded to the scene for a report of an unknown medical emergency, but the department says information from dispatchers suggested a serious situation at the home.

When crews arrived, they found at least two family members unconscious and immediately removed everyone from inside and began treatment.

The family included three young children.

Four separate Harrisonburg Rescue Squad ambulances transported the patients to Sentara RMH for treatment, and the fire department says they're all expected to recover.

Once the family was being treated, crews investigated the home and found lethal levels of carbon monoxide: over 1,000 parts per pillion (ppm) inside. Any amount above 35 ppm is considered harmful. Firefighters tracked the carbon monoxide to a malfunctioning gas-fire appliance, secured the gas leak, ventilated the home, and checked neighboring homes for any presence of carbon monoxide.

They say the home did not have any functioning carbon monoxide alarms and wanted to alert the city about the dangers of carbon monoxide.

“This could have been a terrible tragedy and I am extremely proud of our personnel who recognized the danger and took life-saving actions,” Interim Fire Chief Steve Morris said. “Fortunately, there were no fatalities, but it could have been a completely different outcome.”

They issued these reminders about carbon monoxide poisoning:

• Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless, tasteless gas that cannot be detected by humans. It is approximately the same density as air so it lingers for a long period of time wherever it is produced. Carbon monoxide is an extremely dangerous gas. It produces symptoms that can mimic the flu or a cold including a headache, nausea, vomiting, lethargy, and confusion or dizziness. If multiple people inside your home are experiencing these symptoms it may indicate the presence of the deadly gas. Seek help immediately.

• Every residence (home, apartment, condominium) that has any fossil fuel appliance should have a functioning carbon monoxide alarm on every level of the home. The appliances can include stoves, ovens, wood burning or pellet stoves, gas fireplaces, gas fueled water heaters and clothing dryers, kerosene heaters and of course furnaces that heat the home. An additional common cause is attributed to gasoline fired generators placed too close to residence intended to provide power.

• If an alarm sounds inside your home, evacuate immediately, call 9-1-1 and allow trained responders to find the problem.

• Carbon monoxide alarms can be hard wired with a battery back-up, simply run on battery power, or plug into an AC wall outlet with battery back-up. Check and change the battery regularly to ensure it is functioning properly.

If you cannot afford a carbon monoxide alarm, the Harrisonburg Fire Department can provide assistance.

Heating season is the most prevalent time when CO emergencies occur, but they can happen at any time. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), nearly 500 people die annually from accidental CO poisoning.

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