LEWISTON – A family was lucky not to be home Monday morning as their home at 9 Pauline Ave. filled with deadly levels of carbon monoxide.
Lewiston fire Capt. Tim Myers said that as soon as firefighters forced their way into the single-family home, the alarm on their carbon monoxide meter sounded.
“The alarm sounds at 35 parts per million,” he said Monday evening. “At one point, we measured levels of 800 parts per million in the house.”
Myers said that such a high level causes dizziness and nausea within 45 minutes and unconsciousness within two hours. Death is inevitable between two and three hours of exposure.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration recommends a maximum exposure of 50 ppm during an 8-hour period.
According to Myers, the homeowners had their wood stove, boiler and gas hot water heater hooked into a single chimney. They had been burning wood recently, which caused creosote to build up in the chimney.
“When the furnace kicked on this morning, the gasses failed to make it through the plugged up chimney and backed up into the house,” Myers said.
“We do not recommend hooking up a wood stove to the same chimney as any other heating device,” he warned. “As a matter of fact, it’s illegal to do so.”
Firefighters were sent to the home at 8:24 a.m. Monday after a local hospital called the fire department out of concern for the well-being of the occupants of the home.
According to Myers, the hospital was attempting to contact the homeowners about a hospital visit Sunday night. When no one answered at the home, the hospital grew concerned.
Myers didn’t know the reason for the hospital visit or whether the occupants slept at their home Sunday night.
Upon finding the dangerously high levels of carbon monoxide, firefighters put on self contained breathing apparatus before going farther into the home.
Power to the furnace and hot water heater were cut and ventilation of the home was started. Myers estimated it took about 30 minutes to blow the gasses out of the home.
Myers said he advised the homeowner to have his chimney cleaned and disconnect either the wood stove or furnace from the chimney.
“We are all trying to save on oil,” Myers acknowledged. “And we all do things we shouldn’t do.”
Myers recalled the tragic deaths of a father and son this past December due to carbon monoxide poisoning. Their Windham home filled with fumes from a generator they were running.
The generator was in an unventilated basement.
“It’s important for people to know about the dangers” involved with heating devices, Myers emphasized.
He wanted the public to know that a single chimney should be used for only one heating device. He also recommended carbon monoxide detectors as a preventive measure.
“They are not required by the city, but they are a good idea to have.”