IL – By Christi Mathis, The Southern

A Pinckneyville woman was laid to rest this week and authorities believe a furnace problem led to the tragic death of Imogene Spreitler, 74.

Pinckneyville Fire Department Chief Jerry Smith said Spreitler had asked a grandson to light her furnace at 307 E. Parker St. the morning of Sept. 30, because she was caring for a very young great-grandchild.

A little later that day, the child seemed ill and was taken home and then Spreitler’s cat became ill and was taken to the vet, Smith said. He noted that although both were sick, no one had any reason to suspect anything like carbon monoxide poisoning as it’s an odorless gas.

About 2 p.m., family members became concerned because they couldn’t reach Spreitler and no one had spoken to her since about noon, Smith said. A relative went to the home and immediately summoned the Pinckneyville Ambulance Service after finding the stricken woman in her bedroom.

Burning eyes and other symptoms caused ambulance personnel to open the doors of the home and summon Smith to the scene, he said. He arrived with a carbon monoxide meter and found readings of 1,900 to 2,000 parts per million.

“That’s tremendously high for CO,” Smith said. “The PPM was ungodly high. You can’t survive numbers that high. I’ve been here a long time and I’ve never seen a reading that high.”

Smith said the tell-tale cherry red was apparent on Spreitler and the carbon monoxide level was so high it took a long time with windows and doors open and fans blowing before it was safe to enter the home.

Smith said the apparent cause of the carbon monoxide contamination was likely a cracked heat exchanger in the basement furnace or a plugged flue pipe.

The furnace had been lighted for the first time this fall just that morning, he said. He said it’s fortunate no other family members were seriously hurt or killed by the CO because at the levels found in the home, someone could be overcome and pass out or even die in a just a few minutes.

Spreitler’s heartbreaking death is a vivid reminder to homeowners to have furnaces checked and to make sure they have operational CO detectors in their homes. Smith said he understands Spreitler had had a CO detector but it was no longer in use.

He said people should not only install the detectors, but also should clean and vacuum them periodically and test them monthly to assure they are in proper working order.