Fort Lauderdale, FL – By Andrew Ryan, South Florida Sun-Sentinel
Even putting a gas generator outside their home didn’t protect a Miami-Dade family from carbon monoxide Sunday, pushing the number poisoned by the odorless exhaust since Hurricane Katrina to at least 11.
Paramedics airlifted two adults and three children to hospitals at 9:30 a.m. from the Jones Fish Camp mobile home park in far northwest Miami-Dade County, said Metro Fire Rescue Lt. Eric Baum.
Federal privacy laws barred Baum from detailing the patients’ names or conditions. However, the children were talking to firefighters while they waited for a helicopter to fly them to local hospitals.
After two days without power, the family bought a generator Saturday and set it just outside their trailer’s window, neighbors and Baum said.
As the generator chugged, the colorless exhaust seeped inside the trailer, Baum said. One of the parents noticed that one of the children was sick and called 911. Paramedics determined that everybody inside the mobile home needed to be decontaminated in hyperbaric chambers.
“If you are going to spend hundreds of dollars and get a generator, spend a few dollars to get a carbon monoxide detector,” Baum said. “They are not foolproof, but they make a difference.”
Saturday in Davie a couple died after they went to sleep in the same room as a running generator. Daniel R. McMillan, 63, and Veronica A. Scott, 42, were found in McMillan’s sister’s house.
That same night in south Miami-Dade County, four more people were hospitalized for carbon monoxide poisoning, including two 18-month-old children. In this case, it also appears the generator was running outside the home.
Three days after Hurricane Katrina stormed ashore, almost 500,000 people in Broward and Miami-Dade were still without power, leaving homeowners scrambling for alternatives.
The Lowe’s hardware store in Oakland Park alone has sold 400 generators since Thursday, and the store needed an emergency shipment to keep up with demand. So many have turned to gas-fueled generators that hawkers from Volusia County were selling them off a trailer on Davie Boulevard Sunday.
As generator use rises, so does the likelihood of carbon monoxide poisoning. Symptoms include headache, nausea, dizziness and fatigue.
Exhaust from gas-powered generators killed six people after last year’s hurricanes, and hundreds more fell ill, including 15 people in Palm Beach County.
The state Department of Health estimates that one in 20 emergency generators are used incorrectly, according to a recent study.
Public safety officials implore residents to set up generators in a yard, away from windows, as far as the cord will reach from the house. Users should read through the directions carefully and only power the number of appliances that the generator is designed to handle.
Never use a generator in wet conditions and follow instructions when adding gasoline.
Above all, officials warn, the machines should never be used indoors, near a window or next to other air sources.