Resort Township, MI- On Nov. 7, the Brown family of Resort Township was hit by a silent killer — carbon monoxide poisoning.
According to Al Welsheimer, chief of the Resort-Bear Creek Township Fire Department, 13-year-old Matt, 45-year-old Jodi and 50-year-old Dennis were 15 minutes from unconsciousness, and one hour from death.
“I’ve been with this department for over 28 years, and I don’t recall any (carbon monoxide poisoning incidents) being this severe,” he said. “It was very close.”
It all began around 4 p.m., at the Brown’s home at 1234 Eppler Road.
The family of three was planning on making dinner when they heard a loud noise.
“It almost sounded like the smack a board makes when it hits the floor,” Jodi said.
Dennis said immediately he though it could have been a bird flying into one of their windows, because it had happened on occasion throughout the summer.
He checked, and it wasn’t that.
So, as a precaution, Dennis walked into their furnace room.
“I could smell propane, but the furnace was on and the burner was lit — everything looked fine,” he said. “I wasn’t concerned about a little bit of propane at the time.”
But according to Welsheimer, things were not fine.
He explained that the Brown family’s exhaust pipe had burst and separated from the boiler, leaking carbon monoxide into the home every time the furnace came on that evening.
Dennis said after he checked the home’s furnace, he began making dinner for his wife and son.
Afterward, Dennis, who hadn’t eaten anything yet, began playing on his computer, and his son, Matt, did the same in his room.
Shortly after 7 p.m., Jodi who is bedridden and on oxygen in the family’s living room, said she saw her husband walk to the bathroom. When he walked out, she said, that’s when things started to become strange.
“He came out and bounced off the walls like a ping-pong ball and fell in the hallway,” she said.
Dennis said he noticed there was a problem when he was playing on his computer, but he thought it was because he hadn’t eaten.
“I was sitting there, and the computer was going in circles on me,” he said. “When I stood up to go to the bathroom, I almost had no legs to walk on … I thought I was just hungry.”
After he collapsed in the hallway, Dennis said he tried to get up, but was only able to stagger toward a couch in the living room, near his wife.
Not long after, Jodi said one of their dogs, Molly, a toy poodle, began acting strange.
“When (Dennis) fell, (Molly) got down and acted a little unstable,” Jodi said. “She did a few somersaults and she vomited twice.”
While this was happening, Matt, who is diabetic, came out of his room to help clean up Molly’s mess, but said he became too weak.
“I started felling shaky and dizzy,” he said. “I knew I was low (on blood sugar).”
At this point, Jodi said she knew something was very wrong. Initially, she said she thought it was a gas leak, so she called a friend who was 15 minutes away to come and check the house.
“Carbon monoxide never entered my mind at all,” she said.
As the clock neared 8 p.m., Jodi started passing her oxygen to both her son and husband who were nearly passed out on a couch and chair in the living room.
“I couldn’t think, I was just asleep,” Dennis said.
“I was complaining that I had a headache — I couldn’t get up,” Matt said.
Jodi said her oxygen did not seem to be working, so she called 9-1-1.
“I’m grateful my mind was still in a place that I could call 9-1-1,” she said.
Within minutes, the first firefighters arrived on scene from the Petoskey Department of Public Safety.
Jodi said, they were able to get her son and husband out first. But as emergency responders were getting her onto a stretcher, Jodi said this is when a volunteer firefighter for Resort-Bear Creek Township Fire Department realized what the problem was.
“I remember him saying, ‘(The carbon monoxide level) is 800 (parts per million), we have to get everyone out of here now,'” she said. “Then, I just remember a rush of air as they ran me out.”
According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, most people will not experience symptoms from prolonged exposure to carbon monoxide levels between one to 70 ppm, however, when the levels remain above 70 ppm, symptoms become more noticeable, including headache, fatigue and nausea. At sustained carbon monoxide concentrations above 150 to 200 ppm, disorientation, unconsciousness and death are possible.
“If this had happened at 2 (a.m.) and they were overcome by this, they wouldn’t be here today,” Welsheimer said.
Each family member was taken to Northern Michigan Regional Hospital where they received oxygen, and have since been released.
Jodi, who has had several life-threatening health issues in the past, said she is happy to still be alive.
“I’ve dodged a bullet a couple of times, but I just wish somebody would stop shooting at me,” she said. “It’s crazy to think that your son, husband and animals, basically the whole kit and caboodle could be gone in just minutes … we’re just grateful to be here.”
Since the incident, Welsheimer said the family has installed two carbon monoxide detectors in their home.
“People should learn from this,” Welsheimer said. “Get yourself detectors, they do save lives.”
Emmet County building official Martie Van Berlo, said currently, the state’s residential building code, which Emmet County follows, does not require homes to have carbon monoxide detectors.
However, Van Berlo said he thinks they are important to have.
“I highly recommend putting them in,” he said. “It’s a very inexpensive piece of equipment … the one I have in my house is $30.”