Hazelton, PA – By Tom Ragan – Hazleton City firefighters worked quickly to avoid a tragedy at two city homes Wednesday night.

Hazleton Fire Chief Don Leshko said his department answered two calls within a short time of each other Wednesday and both were because of high levels of carbon monoxide (CO). The more serious occurred at half-double homes at 903-905 Alter St. Leshko said firefighters recorded levels of 210 parts per million CO concentrations of carboxyhemoglobins in the basement of the 903 side and 225 ppm in the basement of the 905 side.

An elderly couple living on the 905 side and a couple living on the 903 side were OK when firefighters arrived just after 10:30 p.m.

Normally, buildups of CO levels at those levels bring on a headache that lasts from one to three hours.

When firefighters arrived, Leshko described a grayish smoke that was coming out of the 903 side, where a coal furnace might have malfunctioned.

Leshko described the levels of carbon monoxide building up in both homes as “very dangerous.” Firefighters wore air packs entering the two sides to take readings and determine how high the levels of the deadly gas were on each floor of the double home.

The 905 side was heated by an oil furnace. Leshko said it wasn’t clear which side malfunctioned because firefighters had to shut down both units and begin what he called applying positive air pressure fans to get gas levels down on each side.

He said they kept checking the carbon monoxide levels until they dropped to safer levels. He urged residents to get their heating units cleaned and serviced and their chimneys checked to avoid deadly carbon monoxide fumes escaping into their homes.

Hazleton City firefighters answered a CO call about an hour earlier at 350 W. Spruce St. The levels of carbon monoxide were a bit lower than the Alter Street homes but firefighters went through the same routine of airing out the place until levels dropped.

No one was overcome by the gas fumes, but again, Leshko warned that the deadly gas must be dealt with in a hurry. If residents smell gas fumes or hear CO detector alarms going off, they should call the fire department immediately. He said that even though winter is almost over and spring is coming, residents should not feel they don’t have to service their units. Hot water must be heated and a faulty heating unit can cause the deadly fumes to build. Carbon monoxide is the No. 1 cause of poisoning in North America, according to the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC).

CO is colorless, odorless and tasteless but CPSC reports that about 200 people a year die from carbon monoxide poisoning. The Hazleton City Fire Department has answered several calls for possible CO-related problems recently. If possible, install CO detectors on each floor, especially near a heating unit, and have furnaces and oil burners serviced, Leshko said.

“It’s better to be safe than sorry,” he said.