Friday, January 30, 2009

Carbon monoxide leak leads to close call

Hailey family flown to Pocatello after poisoning

Express Staff Writer

A malfunctioning boiler at a Hailey home on Thursday led to a case of carbon monoxide poisoning severe enough to necessitate a Life Flight for a family of four.

Wood River Fire & Rescue Capt. Rich Bauer said his agency was dispatched at 7:06 a.m. to a home on Cloverly Lane in Hailey where two adults reported feeling sick with "flu-like" symptoms.

"It sent up a red flag for us because it's rare that two people would need medical assistance at the same location, especially at that time of day," Bauer said. "We took a carbon monoxide detector on a hunch and the alert went off as soon as we put it inside the door."

Bauer was not at liberty to identify the family. In addition to being dizzy and nauseous, Bauer said, the female was nearly unresponsive.

The dispatch call was for 200 Cloverly Lane, the residence of Jim and Eva Hague.

Bauer said the boiler, which provided radiant heating for the house, was located directly under the parents' bedroom, leaving the two adults unable to leave the house under their own power.

Though the children, who were in a different part of the house, did not need assistance leaving the house, all four family members were placed on oxygen.

Tanya Kiem, spokeswoman for St. Luke's Wood River Medical Center, said the family was flown by helicopter from the hospital in Ketchum to Idaho Wound Care and Hyperbaric Center in Pocatello to help expedite recovery through the use of a hyperbaric chamber, which provides oxygen at high pressure, helping to quickly restore correct levels of oxygen to the bloodstream.

Calynn Hampsten, spokeswoman for the hyperbaric center, said that everyone in the family was "conscious and doing much better" after nearly an hour in the chamber. Hampsten said the Hagues had gone into the chamber around noon on Thursday, but did not say how long they would have to receive the treatment.

Because of the gas, two fire engines joined the two ambulances on scene, bringing a total of 12 firefighters from both the Wood River and Hailey fire departments.

David Nelson, a technician from Intermountain Gas's Hailey office determined that the carbon monoxide content near the boiler was in excess of 300 parts per million. Bauer said normal carbon monoxide levels are around two to three parts per million, and that a window should be opened at 10 parts per million.

Nelson said that there was a malfunction in the venting system for the natural gas-powered boiler, which caused the gas to spread into the house.

"It was a freak accident," Nelson said.

Nelson said that most houses with radiant heat have separate boilers for heating water.

Because the poisoning occurs over a period of time, Bauer said there wasn't a very high risk for the ambulance crew when removing the patients from the house.

"I think we really dodged a bullet here," Bauer said. "Carbon monoxide poisoning is so dangerous because it has similar symptoms to the flu, so people don't realize what's happening."

Bauer said the female had been taken to the hospital on Tuesday after reporting feeling sick, but the connection was not made to carbon monoxide poisoning.

This danger was evidenced in Aspen, Colo., where a family of four died from carbon monoxide poisoning in December. According to the Aspen Daily News, the problem in that case was caused by a "combination of errors in the mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems."

"If everyone in the house starts feeling sick, it's important that they all get out immediately," Bauer said.

As a safety measure, Bauer said people should install carbon monoxide detectors in their homes as a precaution.

"It's good security for around $25," Bauer said.

Jon Duval:

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