“They Should Be Dead.”

Two people told me that today, but neither meant it as a judgement. It was just a statement of fact.

Firefighters, police and EMT’s were called to 590 Pine Street today at 4:35 p.m., by a 911 call that reported a child couldn’t breath.

They arrived to find a 14-month-old girl and a 6-year-old boy across the street from the home pictured below. Both were having difficulty breathing. Inside of the home was a woman in her 50’s who was so disoriented she had to be carried down the home’s stairs.

“I think they were very lucky,” said Deputy Fire Chief John Dowling. “They were very close to being unconscious.”

Carbon monoxide levels in the home reached as high as 816-parts-per-million on the second floor, according to firefighters and police at the scene. The Consumer Product Safety Commission says exposure to more than 150 parts-per-million can cause disorientation, unconsciousness, and death.
According to the Wikipedia entry I linked to above, which cites the National Institutes of Health, exposure to carbon monoxide over 800 parts per million can cause convulsions within 45 minutes.

Hence the comments I heard at the scene.

“It effects you before you even know it,” said Deputy Dowling.

Johnson Jean-Mary, who lives in the home with his wife, 14-month-old, 6-year-old, and mother-in-law, told me he hasn’t had heat or power since Saturday. He tried to get a room in a local hotel, but they were all booked. Yesterday morning he went to Home Depot and bought a small generator.

He put it just inside the door of his enclosed porch, shut the door, turned it on, and left the house with his wife about noon. He wanted his kids to be warm while he left them at home with their grandma.

Dowling said both children and the mother-in-law recovered once they were out of the house and into cleaner air. They were taken to Lowell General Hospital but were expected to be fine after being checked out.

They were, undoubtedly, lucky. Jean-Mary’s account makes it clear they were in the house with the generator running for at least four hours.

Even putting a generator at the open door of a garage isn’t adequate for ventilation. Cold air can push the CO inside, according to Dracut Deputy Fire Chief Rich Patterson. Patterson told me that on Monday, when I called him to ask about 9 people who had to be hospitalized after their home on Forest Park Road in Dracut.

Everyone I’ve mentioned so far was lucky. So far since Saturday’s storm, three people in Massachusetts have been killed by carbon monoxide after losing power. Two died in Palmer today, and a 49-year-old woman died in Hatfield on Monday. Her 55-year-old husband was hospitalized.

Dowling said generators should always be kept at least 10 feet from doors or windows while running, and that all floors of a home should have carbon monoxide detectors.

I’m told there was a detector in the basement of 590 Pine Street, but it was in the basement near the furnace. It wasn’t much help today when the gas originated on the first floor and spread up through the house.

For a list of safety tips for generators that I got from the Hudson, N.H. Fire Department today, just download this file.

Also, here are some more safety tips from National Grid.

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2 responses to ““They Should Be Dead.”

  1. I’m really glad that everyone’s ok but I just have one observation. I don’t mean to sound rude, but how stupid can you be to leave a generator running in an enclosed porch with no ventilation. That is like leaving your car running in your garage. Some people’s stupidity amazes me sometimes. This time it almost cost lives.

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