Onset, MD – ONSET As Janet Kowzic made supper she heard a strange beeping noise in the kitchen.
She soon realized it was coming from the carbon monoxide detector and figured the batteries must be dying.
“I went over and pushed the button and it stopped,” Kowzic said.
She finished preparing dinner and sat down to eat with her husband. That’s when the beeping started up again.
“She thought it was broken, so we changed the batteries,” Frank said.
The couple finished dinner and moved to the den to watch TV. However the detector went off once again.
“We called the Onset Fire Department and they told us to get out of the house,” Janet said.
When Onset firefighters arrived, they confirmed there was carbon monoxide present in the home caused by coals from a wood-burning stove. A family member had accidentally placed ashes from the stove into an open container near a furnace, Janet said.
Calls like these are not uncommon, Interim Onset Fire Chief Raymond Goodwin said.
Last year the department handled about 24 carbon monoxide alarms, and six turned out to be real instances of carbon monoxide, Goodwin said.
The incidents are often caused by faulty equipment and blocked vents, he said.
The wintertime is especially dangerous because snow can block vents and people are more likely to use fuel-burning heating sources.
“Be careful and know how your house runs and how your equipment runs, and make sure you take the proper safety precautions,” Goodwin said.
Janet, Frank and their son Kevin were taken to Tobey Hospital. Frank was in and out of the house all day and was cleared pretty quickly. However, Janet and Kevin had greater exposure to the CO and had to be placed on oxygen.
Exposure to carbon monoxide often leads to flu-like symptoms and can eventually be fatal. Frank said he didn’t feel any different, but Janet said she felt a bit sick.
“I felt dizzy, but I have allergies, so I thought that’s why I was experiencing some dizziness,” Janet said. “I had no idea it was carbon monoxide. Carbon monoxide is odorless and colorless. That’s why they call it the silent killer.”
The couple recalled a 2005 incident in Plymouth when a 7-year-old girl died in her sleep after snow blocked a vent and carbon monoxide filled the home. The tragedy struck a chord with Frank, because he knew the family through coaching Little League. The couple also remembered that their neighbors had a spent a couple of days in the hospital last year after they were exposed to the gas.
Still, Frank and Janet said they never actually checked what the carbon monoxide detector sounded like.
“I think most people don’t even know what it sounds like,” Frank said. “We would definitely tell everybody to test your detectors and make sure you know what it sounds like when it goes off.”
The fire chief also recommended changing the batteries in the carbon monoxide detectors whenever you change your clocks for Daylight Savings Time the same time you are supposed change your smoke detector batteries.
“I can’t overstate it,” Goodwin said. “They save lives.”
Goodwin said it’s also important to be aware that carbon monoxide detectors have a shelf-life and should be replaced according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
“Manufacturers vary,” Goodwin said. “Some say five years, some say 10.”
Now, about a week later, the Kowzic family has settled down and say they have a lot of people to thank. The Onset Fire Department, Wareham EMS, and the staff in the Emergency Room at Tobey Hospital all handled the incident with care and compassion, the family said.
“Everyone knew what to do and what we needed,” Janet said.
Janet also had one more important thank-you.”
“God was looking over us,” Janet said. “He always does.”