By Lyonel Doherty

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There could be a ‘silent killer’ in your home waiting to harm your family.

That’s what happened to one group of five recently in Fairmont Hot Springs where a carbon monoxide leak forced the evacuation of 18 condo units, resulting in a family being sent to hospital.

The December 28 call at 12:25 a.m. brought the fire department, RCMP and BC Ambulance to the scene on Riverview Road where crews donned protective equipment and utilized CO monitors.

“Upon entry into the building, carbon monoxide levels of over 200 parts per million were detected and we immediately evacuated all 18 units,” said Columbia Valley Rural Fire & Rescue Service Chief Drew Sinclair. 

He noted that a family of five was sent to hospital for further examination and observation.  While nobody else required medical care, between 30 and 50 people were evacuated from the condominiums,” he explained.

An Emergency Support Services (ESS) reception centre was established at the Columbia Valley Centre in Invermere, and alternate accommodations were arranged.

“Our firefighters were able to access the impacted units to retrieve essential personal items such as medications for all those who were evacuated,” Sinclair noted.

The chief added that the utilities were isolated and the impacted propane line was shut down, however, the cause of the leak remains under investigation with the assistance of the technical safety gas inspector. 

Sinclair told the Pioneer that all property owners should be aware of carbon monoxide (CO) and its properties, noting it is a colourless, tasteless and odourless gas, which makes it deadly.

He explained that CO is the byproduct of incomplete combustion of carbon and can be produced by either improperly functioning gas appliances, wood heat with not enough oxygen or proper venting, smoldering debris, and even ash. 

Sinclair said symptoms of CO poisoning include dizziness, nausea, cyanosis, confusion, fatigue, and drowsiness, progressing into respiratory and cardiovascular problems, including arrest due to the lack of oxygen in the bloodstream.

“It is called the silent killer as the hemoglobin in our blood grabs CO over O2 as it is an easier and stronger chemical bond, so the effects are long lasting and compound without patient removal to fresh air.”

In the case of CO poisoning, provision of high flow oxygen for prolonged periods is required to slowly push out the CO from the blood, he explained.

The fire chief said that all property owners should have their gas appliances checked and serviced annually to ensure not only proper operation but adequate air supply and venting, including the possibility of snow or ice blocking roof or wall vents. He noted that wood burning appliances should also be kept clean with awareness of where the combustion air is coming from to ensure there is no blockage.

“All property owners should ensure they have both working CO and smoke detectors operating in their buildings with emphasis on each residential unit,” Sinclair said. He added that most smoke detectors are combination CO and smoke alarms now, and while 10 years is the standard replacement of smoke detectors, most CO alarms are seven years due to the different detection mechanisms.

Sinclair said homes that are completely electric with no propane appliances or wood heat of any kind are at a much less risk for carbon monoxide poisoning. Another common CO problem is the idling of vehicles in attached garages or near fresh air intakes for building heating systems.