Quincy, IL- Melissa Roberts realizes watching a television show Friday night that featured a segment on carbon monoxide poisoning likely saved her life and the lives of children in her Quincy home.
And her story can serve as a warning to others on a potential killer that is most dangerous during winter months, when furnaces get their biggest use.
“The main floor was around 250 (parts per million), which generally it is around zero or 1 or 2 parts per million,” Quincy Fire Department Lt. Jason Steinkamp said of the carbon monoxide detected in Roberts home Saturday. “We have to get out of the house at 30 parts per million without any breathing protection.”
Levels of carbon monoxide in the basement registered at a staggering 750 parts per million, he said.
“I believe the furnace chimney or vents were stopped up,” Steinkamp said. “It wasn’t venting outside like it should. It was just venting in the basement.”
Roberts, 34, said she was feeling ill Friday night and lay down to watch television while her daughter, Alexis, 12, was entertaining two friends with a sleepover in their home at 1237 N. Fifth. The news show happened to feature a segment on carbon monoxide poisoning, an odorless and colorless gas known as the “silent killer” that can build up in homes as a result of malfunctioning fuel-burning appliances such as furnaces.
“I remember hearing after I laid down that if the levels are high enough in your house, it can kill you in minutes,” said Roberts, who admitted to feeling light-headed as well as feeling ill.
Fearing carbon monoxide was the reason, she quickly went to check on her daughter and her friends who were in another room in the home. Fortunately, she said, the girls were fine.
“I was thinking I was going to open the door and they were all going to be lying in there, passed out,” Roberts said.
She noticed the vent to the girl’s room was covered with a towel.
“(Firefighters) said that if that had not been done, they would have been gone, because that was blocking the carbon monoxide from coming up the vent,” she said.
Roberts quickly got the girls out of the house and stayed with family Friday night. She called Brian Terstegge of Air Specialist Heating and Air Conditioning early Saturday morning to check out the house.
Terstegge said he has never seen carbon monoxide levels register so high in his 30 years in the business.
“As soon as I hit the steps, (my carbon monoxide detector) started pinging,” he said.
Terstegge said he noticed the windows had a significant amount of condensation on the panes when he walked up to the house, which can be an indication of high carbon monoxide levels.
Once Terstegge reached the basement, he realized the furnace was not venting, so he exited and called 911. Firefighters entered the home wearing respirators to turn off the furnace and ventilate it.
Steinkamp said residents should have carbon monoxide detectors installed in their homes. Roberts said she had a carbon monoxide detector, but never reinstalled it after painting the kitchen.
“I had taken it down so I could paint, and I just never got it back in,” she said. “It was sitting on top of my refrigerator.”
It has since been put back in place, and a new furnace was installed Saturday.