Pembroke,MA – By Mary Salters, Enterprise correspondent
Fire and gas investigators found a blocked chimney and faulty furnace at a Juniper Road home where a 61-year-old man died of carbon monoxide poisoning Thursday. His wife was critically injured.
The Fire Department and Bay State Gas inspectors found a bird’s nest blocking the chimney and a possible cracked heat exchanger in the gas furnace.
Eugene F. Reiber, 61, was pronounced dead at 3 a.m. Thursday at South Shore Hospital in Weymouth after he was transported by ambulance from his home. His wife, Catharine H. Reiber, 57, was in critical condition Thursday at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, where she was taken by a MedFlight helicopter.
Pembroke Fire Capt. Michael Hill and Bay State Gas spokesman Don DiNunno said the incident is a tragic reminder of the importance of having annual inspections of chimneys and furnaces, screens over chimneys, and carbon monoxide detectors and smoke detectors in the home.
Hill also suggested hiring a chimney sweep to make sure there are no obstructions.
DiNunno said birds most likely built a nest in the Reiber’s chimney over the summer, and the couple had probably turned on the furnace for the first time this fall due to the recent cold weather.
DiNunno said the blocked chimney and faulty furnace could have taken place with any fuel, including gas, oil and wood.
Pembroke Police Lt. Michael Ohrenberger said the couple’s daughter, a Middleboro resident, called police to report that she believed her parents were in trouble after the couple called their daughter at 1:55 a.m. Thursday
Hill said an ambulance arrived at the Reiber’s home shortly after and rescue workers entered the house.
Firefighters walked upstairs and found the couple in bed, apparently overcome by carbon monoxide fumes. The door was unlocked, fire officials said.
Hill said Reiber was pronounced dead at South Shore Hospital.
Hill said Bay State Gas inspectors and Deputy Fire Chief George Emanuel conducted an investigation at the house and found the bird’s nest and the cracked heat exchanger in the gas-fired furnace.
DiNunno said that every spring, Bay State Gas customers are sent a fact sheet with their bills warning that carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless and tasteless gas that is toxic.
“When you heat with oil, natural gas or wood, your heating system can produce carbon monoxide if it is not working properly or if it is inadequately vented,” said DiNunno.
A victim of carbon monoxide poisoning may experience several symptoms, such as headaches, irritability, unclear thinking, dizziness, weakness, visual disturbances, nausea, vomiting, fainting upon exertion, loss of muscle control, tightening of the chest, sleepiness, fluttering of the heart, confusion and a cherry red skin color in severe cases.
He said signs to look for in the presence of carbon monoxide include stuffy, stale or smelly air, high humidity, no draft in a chimney or a hot draft backing out of the heating system and into the basement, house or building, and fallen soot from a fireplace or chimney.
If homeowners suspect the presence of carbon monoxide, they should open doors and windows and call the fuel supplier or a licensed heating contractor for an emergency inspection. If carbon monoxide is detected, residents should immediately seek medical attention.