VT – By Brendan McKenna, Rutland Herald Staff

A carbon monoxide detector installed in a Killington condominium a few weeks ago saved a family of five from possible death caused by a blocked chimney.

Robert Howe, an assistant state fire marshal, said a vacationing family arrived at a Sunrise Mountain Village condominium Friday night ready to turn in after a day of travel when the carbon monoxide detector went off.

“The detector started going with the alarm within minutes of them starting up the heating system,” Howe said. “They did not have much exposure.Fortunately they had no ill effects.”

There are generally a number of factors that contribute to any carbon monoxide poisoning, Howe said, but in this case it was primarily caused by a blocked chimney.

“It pushed all of the products of the heating system in combination back into the dwelling,” he said.

Howe and Steven Finer, the Killington fire chief, would not release the family’s name but said they were from Duxbury, Mass.

Finer said he closed the building and the gas company flagged the furnace as inoperable.

Both said the family was fortunate the condominium association had installed the CO detector within weeks of their arrival.

“There are 172 units in the project and they were working to get the detectors installed this summer,” Howe said. “They’d done this unit a couple of weeks ago. Certainly the timing was fortunate, getting the CO detector in.”

Howe and Finer both said that the levels of carbon monoxide found in the building could have been fatal within hours. The fire department found more than 400 parts per million of CO in the air.

“There is no questioning this poisoning could have been fatal,” Finer said in a telephone interview.

“If they’d gone to sleep with carbon monoxide at those levels they wouldn’t have woken up,” he said.

A law requiring carbon monoxide detectors in new homes and other buildings where people sleep was signed in May by Gov. James Douglas.

“Here’s an example of a law that some people weren’t thrilled with but these people are alive because of it,” Finer said.

In January, carbon monoxide poisoning at off-campus housing for University of Vermont students in Burlington killed one man and sickened nine people. The new law was a direct result of these incidents.

Unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning sends an estimated 10,000 people to hospital emergency rooms for treatment each year nationwide, and kills more than 200.

During 2001-04, more than 800 carbon monoxide incidents were reported in Vermont, including six unintentional deaths.

“Heating systems that are not operating properly are the most common source of unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning in Vermont,” John Wood, the state’s director of fire safety, said in a written statement.

But the gas can also be a problem with temporary cooking appliances or space heaters, motor vehicles left running in attached garages or adjacent to a building, generators used during power outages or any other type of fuel burning appliance.

“You cannot see, taste or smell carbon monoxide, but it can cause severe health problems or death,” Wood said. “It is important that everyone have carbon monoxide detectors where they sleep.”