FAIRBORN — Rose Marie Harrison’s 3-year-old dachshund Cee Cee barked whenever anyone approached the front door of her Popular Lane ranch house.
But the dog didn’t make a peep when Carole Blandino of Fairborn showed up there Oct. 30 at 9 a.m. for one of her usual morning walks with Harrison.
“I knocked, but she (Harrison) didn’t come to the door,” Blandino recalled. “I used my cell phone to call her and she didn’t answer the phone.”
Blandino contacted neighbors with a spare key to Harrison’s house and found Harrison, 67, lifeless on the bathroom floor. Her dog, in a bedroom, was assumed dead. It recovered when it was removed from the house and given oxygen.
Initially, Blandino thought Harrison fell victim to ongoing heart or kidney problems she was scheduled for kidney dialysis the day before her body was found. But a Greene County Coroner’s Office investigation determined Harrison’s killer was a colorless, odorless gas.
Dangerous levels of carbon monoxide were found throughout Harrison’s three-bedroom home, said Bill McCarthy, chief coroner’s office chief investigator. A Vectren Corp. natural gas employee found a substantial crack in her basement furnace, McCarthy said.
The gas, nicknamed the silent killer, is a by-product of incomplete combustion. It can kill swiftly depending on levels and the health and age of the person, McCarthy said.
“It replaces the oxygen in the blood cells,” he said. “The more you breathe in, the more comes into your body.”
Harrison was likely only exposed for only a few hours.
One to three deaths in Greene County each year are attributed to carbon monoxide poisoning.
Greene County’s Miami Twp. Fire Chief Colin Altman said some newer furnaces have special shut-off systems with built-in CO detectors, but they are not widespread. The overwhelming majority of homes have older furnaces, some as old as 60 or 70 years old, Altman said.
Dayton Fire Marshall Sean Englert said any device that burns fuel has the potential to produce dangerous levels of carbon monoxide. Besides furnaces, carbon monoxide can also be produced by vehicles left running in attached garages, gas water heaters, fireplaces and wood stoves, gas stoves, non-electric space heaters, charcoal grills and gas appliances, such as dryers and generators.
Something as simple as a bird’s nest in a chimney can lead to problems for those below, Englert said.
“There are a lot of things that can block a chimney,” Englert said.
Several fire departments said the number of carbon monoxide related calls they annually respond to have dropped since CO detectors were first introduced about a decade ago. Still, each year, hundreds of Americans are killed by the gas, according to the Ohio Fire Marshal’s Office.
Dayton firefighters responded to 167 carbon monoxide detector alarms in 2003 and 27 poisonings. Dead and sick house pets resulted in several of the calls, Englert said.
A Xenia family of four was evacuated from a Colorado Drive house in November after firefighters called to the house discovered high levels of the gas.
Xenia fire Chief Jeffrey Leaming said symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning can often be mistaken for the flu. The Colorado Drive family experienced headaches, dizziness and nausea.
Leaming said carbon monoxide detectors sound an alarm when a low-level concentration of the gas exists in the air. The $30 to $40 devices can save lives by providing early warning of accumulating carbon monoxide, he said.
Some departments offer residents assistance in obtaining carbon monoxide detectors. The Xenia Fire Department lends detectors to residents. The Franklin Fire Departments is among the Miami Valley departments that distributes the units free to residents through a program with the American Red Cross, said Franklin firefighter Chad Reed. He said the division gave out 89 detectors between January 2003 and November.
Besides detectors, yearly checks of furnaces and other fuel burning devices can help head off tragedy, officials said.
Rose Harrison was upbeat and relatively healthy before her death, her daughter Jeri Lynn Finnegan of Columbus said. She told friends she planned to have a professional check the furnace. She turned it on just days before her death and put off the inspection because of recent medical expenses, friends said.
Finnegan found a receipt in her mother’s house from her last furnace check in 2001.
She said her mother was a “nice lady,” who was active in her church, babied her dog and took a lot of pride in her home. “She was always doing something in the house,” said Finnegan, who is now caring for her mother’s beloved dog.
She doubted her mother gave much thought to the potential of carbon monoxide poisoning.
“You don’t really think it could happen to you until it happens to you,” Finnegan said.