BRATTLEBORO—A carbon monoxide detector in the basement of a multi-family dwelling is being credited with saving the lives of 16 people, after a malfunctioning boiler tripped the alarm.
According to a news release from Brattleboro Fire Chief Michael Bucossi, firefighters responded at midnight on Nov. 7 to a call from a tenant at 11 Pleasant St. that a carbon monoxide alarm was sounding.
Upon arrival, firefighters entered the basement, and the gas meter that they were carrying with them registered elevated levels of carbon monoxide (CO). There was also a light haze in the basement.
Firefighters shut down the boiler and then went to each of the six apartments in the building, checking CO levels. They found elevated readings throughout the building.
Bucossi said that all 16 tenants were evacuated and a medical meter was used to check the CO levels in their respective bloodstreams. It revealed that six of the tenants, including one infant, had high levels.
Five tenants were transported to Brattleboro Memorial Hospital by three Rescue Inc. ambulances, and a sixth tenant went to the hospital by private vehicle. The building was ventilated by the fire department using fans.
Once all meter readings returned to zero, Bucossi said, all tenants were allowed to reoccupy their apartments.
Bucossi acknowledged reports that alarms in the building went off earlier in the afternoon “and either the detectors were disconnected or ignored.”
Carbon monoxide is produced anytime a fuel is burned. Because carbon monoxide is an invisible poisonous gas that cannot be seen, smelled, or tasted, it can quickly accumulate in deadly concentrations in spaces without proper ventilation.
Common symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include headache, dizziness, weakness, and upset stomach/vomiting.
“This incident could have had a very tragic ending if it was not for a functioning CO detector in the basement,” Bucossi said. “The Brattleboro Fire Department urges all residents to consider any alarm to be an emergency until it is deemed to be safe by trained professionals.”
He added that the department wants to “remind all citizens that you should have properly installed and working smoke and carbon monoxide detectors on all levels of your home, preferably outside of sleeping areas.”
“They save lives, as shown in this incident,” he said.
While state law requires CO alarms in all buildings where people sleep, 36 percent of Vermont homes did not have a working alarm, according to a 2018 survey by the Vermont Department of Health.
In a news release, state Health Commissioner Mark Levine M.D. said that “having working carbon monoxide alarms throughout the home is as important to saving lives as having smoke alarms. Alarms provide the early warning of rising CO levels and alert you to get out of the home and be safe.”
Levine also advises Vermonters to have their furnace checked each year.
“A faulty heating system can be especially dangerous, so have yours inspected and serviced every year,” said Levine. “The same applies to wood stoves, chimneys, hot water heaters, stoves, and clothes dryers that burn fuel. And be sure to keep all the vents outside your home clear of snow and ice.”
The Health Department has created safety tips, a video, and fact sheets translated into eight languages — available at healthvermont.gov/CO.