CARBON MONOXIDE: THE SILENT KILLER

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By Audrey Posten

North Iowa Times Editor

 

On Christmas Eve, Monona resident Donna Krambeer was busy preparing her home for Christmas with her family. Around 10:30 a.m., while working in the kitchen, she heard the carbon monoxide detector go off in the basement.

She went downstairs to investigate, wondering if a low battery had caused the disturbance. Yet, this was different: the detector warned them to evacuate the home. Danger seemed unlikely, though, Krambeer noted.

“I thought, ‘no way,’” she recalled. “‘It’s probably the Scentsy candle I’d just plugged in.’ So I took the battery out and went back upstairs.”

Ten to 15 minutes later, she was back working in the kitchen. She couldn’t get the incident off her mind, however, and had her husband check it out, too. Eventually, they thought it would be best to contact the fire department, just to ensure there wasn’t a problem.

“I wasn’t going to call, but I knew my family was going to be staying in the basement,” Krambeer said. “I’d never forgive myself if something happened.”

Krambeer called Monona volunteer firefighter Jeremy Schellhorn, who, with fire chief Dave Smith, came to the Krambeer home with detectors to investigate the situation.

“They said, ‘yes, it was high,’” Krambeer shared. “It wasn’t through the roof, but it was high.”

Carbon monoxide levels are measured in parts per million (ppm). One hundred ppm, for example, means that, for every 999,900 molecules of air, there are 100 molecules of carbon monoxide. A poisonous gas that’s created by burning carbon-based fuels, carbon monoxide is tasteless and odorless, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It harms people by depriving the blood of oxygen, often causing headaches, dizziness, weakness, nausea and chest pain; high concentrations can lead to death through suffocation.

Smith said the upstairs of the Krambeer home contained 14 ppm of carbon monoxide.

“Thirty-five ppm gets to be pretty dangerous. I’m not saying anything drastic could’ve happened,” he explained, but one never knows.

Once the firemen verified the problem, Krambeer said she contacted Black Hills Energy, who sent someone to find the source. The serviceman discovered the Krambeers’ hot water heater was not functioning properly. The pipe that vents to the roof was separated, she remarked, causing the carbon monoxide to come back into the home, rather than leaving it.

With repair impossible on Christmas weekend, there was no alternative but to shut off the hot water heater. Krambeer admitted her first reaction was to fight the recommendation—she was having her family over for Christmas. She quickly realized it was necessary, however.

The hot water heater couldn’t be repaired until the Tuesday after Christmas, forcing the Krambeers to shower at their daughter’s home in Monona and heat up any water at home on the stove.

“I was disappointed and upset,” Krambeer said, “but others were going through worse things. I could deal with heating water on the stove.”

The situation was certainly a learning experience, she stated.

“You don’t think it can happen to you,” she said. “We have a nice home and we keep things maintained. Let this be a lesson to people, especially this time of year.”

“It’s certainly a testament for a carbon monoxide detector,” Smith quipped, adding that it’s best to have a detector on every floor in a home or building, especially upstairs.

“The carbon monoxide detector is not doing any good in the basement,” Krambeer said, reiterating wisdom shared from the Black Hills Energy serviceman. “You have to have it upstairs, outside your bedroom,” she noted, so it can be easily heard if it goes off at night.

Contact someone if there’s an issue.

“If you’re not certain, don’t blow it off.” If they would have, said Krambeer, “the whole weekend could have turned out differently.”

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