Novato, CA- Families in Novato and Vallejo are lucky to be alive after their homes filled with poisonous carbon monoxide, fire officials said Friday.
Both incidents happened New Year’s Day, and both are thought to have been caused by defective wall heaters, authorities said.
The first near-tragedy came to light when several Novato fire personnel dropped a patient at Novato Community Hospital at about 7:15 a.m. Thursday, said Battalion Chief Jeff Veliquette of the Novato Fire Protection District. While they were there, a family of five, including an infant and a grandmother, arrived in a car complaining of dizziness and nausea.
The mother said the family started feeling sick around midnight, Veliquette said. When their symptoms failed to improve in the morning, they headed for the emergency room.
Suspecting the symptoms might have come from carbon monoxide poisoning, firefighters went to the house to measure how much of the colorless, odorless gas was inside.
It turned out the level was “well over” 400 parts per million, at which death can occur within three to five hours, Veliquette said.
The source of the poison was a malfunctioning wall heater, Veliquette said.
Paramedics took the family to John Muir Medical Center in Walnut Creek, which has facilities for treating carbon monoxide poisoning.
Hours later, at 9:33 p.m. Thursday, firefighters in Vallejo were summoned to a Cypress Avenue home by a report of a 61-year-old woman feeling ill. The responding firefighters, smelling a strange odor from the wall heater, moved the woman outside and called for a gas monitor.
As they waited for the monitor, the firefighters found a second, 43-year-old woman inside the home, incapacitated in a bedroom, according to the Vallejo Fire Department. And a neighbor told the firefighters that a 3-year-old boy from the house, whom the neighbor was caring for while the mother was sick, also showed signs of illness.
Carbon monoxide levels in the home were measured at 200 parts per million, according to Vallejo fire officials. All three victims were treated at Sutter Solano Medical Center and were expected to recover fully.
Veliquette said all homes should have at least one carbon monoxide detector, a device that looks similar to a smoke detector. Smoke detectors cannot detect carbon monoxide.
Fire officials also recommend having all household heating appliances checked annually for proper operation, and warn against using gasoline-powered generators or charcoal barbecues indoors – both can cause carbon monoxide poisoning.
Last month, a gasoline-powered generator running in a home in unincorporated San Mateo County near Redwood City where the electricity had been cut off spread carbon monoxide throughout the residence, sending eight people to the hospital. All eight recovered.
What it is: A colorless, odorless and tasteless gas that is highly toxic. Because carbon monoxide is impossible to see or smell, poisoning victims can die without realizing they are being exposed. Symptoms – including headaches, dizziness, nausea and fatigue – are easy to mistake for the flu.
How to avoid it: Never use gas-powered generators or charcoal barbecues indoors. Have central heating systems inspected annually for leaks. Open flues when using fireplaces, and make sure doors on wood stoves fit properly. Do not idle cars inside a garage.
How to detect it: Install a carbon monoxide detector, which costs $20 to $60 and can be purchased at hardware stores and similar outlets.
Source: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Chronicle research.