Leaking Hot Water Heater Nearly Proves Fatal for Danvers Family
Danvers firefighters were able to drag a family of three to fresh air just in time Wednesday morning, before they succumbed to a deadly build-up of carbon monoxide fumes inside their home.
“Another couple minutes, it would have been a completely different story,” said Fire Chief Kevin Farrell.
Farrell related how early Wednesday morning, the lives of an entire family in town would have expired if firefighters did not arrive at their home when they did. Carbon monoxide fumes had built up inside the home over several hours or possibly days, unbeknownst to the family. Farrell said that if carbon monoxide detectors had been installed in the home, the family would have been warned of the potentially deadly situation well before the gas reached nearly fatal levels.
“The mom was just conscious enough to make a phone call,” he said.
State law does require at least battery-operated CO detectors on every floor of a residence that has a heating system.
“Now every home has to be equipped with carbon monoxide detectors and this is a perfect example as to why. Detectors would have alerted them long before they suffered the ill effects that they did,” said Farrell.
At approximately 5:40 a.m., an emergency call came in from a woman who complained she, her husband and daughter all felt very ill. She sounded barely conscious.
Fire Engine 3 was quickly dispatched and firefighters arrived at the family’s ranch home at 8 Oak St. within four minutes, Farrell said – they were just in time.
When firefighters opened the front door, they saw two females semi-coherent and motionless – the mother, 50, was laying on the couch, while her daughter, 20, was on the floor.
Farrell said both women were quickly dragged to fresh air outside and the mother told firefighters she last saw her husband in the bathroom. Firefighters re-entered the home and dragged him out as well, moments later.
Farrell said that when firefighters first entered the home, a multi-gas detector meter soared past 1,000 parts per million. To put that into perspective, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration says 35 parts per million is an acceptably safe level of carbon monoxide to breathe in the workplace over an eight-hour period.
Wednesday night, the daughter and father were released from the hospital, he said. They were at the home when Farrell came by.
“I was quite surprised. Those two seemed to be in the gravest condition,” he said, adding that the mother may not have been released yet due to concern over a pre-existing medical condition.
Fire inspectors determined that a hot water heater caused the carbon monoxide build-up. The heater sprung a leak on the hot water side and trying to keep up with the flow of water, the machine kept running. Farrell said it would be the same as if a car engine was left running in a garage for several hours. The result was the same: it ultimately filled the residence with carbon monoxide.
Farrell said there was a problem with the flue pipe that vented the heater as well, and due to the general state of disrepair inside the home, the public health department condemned the home.
The father and daughter were staying with relatives, Farrell said, until they could arrange to address the problems. The building inspector would then evaluate if there were any structural issues as well.
Farrell said the family was connected with Pamela Parkinson, the town’s director of social services, and the Danvers Community Council, which is working to provide some assistance.
“Whatever we can do to assist, we certainly will from our end,” said Farrell.
In addition to demonstrating the need for CO detectors in the home, the incident also highlights the difficulty of checking to make sure homeowners are in compliance with the law. Farrell said that unless invited into the residence or there is a sale or transfer of the property requiring an inspection or there is an emergency or other need of public service at the home, those are the only times the Fire Department can go in to check if there are working smoke and CO detectors.
“Where the home is considered the castle, we can’t just go in and arbitrarily check the home,” he said.
Farrell added that many people might think summertime is when they least have to worry about carbon monoxide poisoning, but he pointed out that people still need hot water.
“The facts themselves speak volumes. We’re just trying to get the word out on this,” Farrell said. “If you don’t have CO detectors, you should install them on all floors.”