Carbon monoxide sends two to hospital following windstorm

The Enterprise — Michael Koff

The windows at 17 Morningside Drive are boarded up after they were broken by first responders on Feb. 23, to allow carbon monoxide to escape. During a recent power outage, the occupants had run a generator in their attached garage, according to Guilderland Police.

GUILDERLAND — Two Guilderland residents of 17 Morningside Drive suffered carbon-monoxide poisoning on Feb. 23, according to Guilderland Police, and were taken to Albany Medical Center.

After a severe windstorm had knocked out power to their home, the man and woman had run a gasoline-powered generator in their closed garage, which is attached to their house. Carbon monoxide — on odorless, colorless, poisonous gas — from the exhaust entered their home, said Deputy Police Chief Curtis Cox this week.

The couple’s son came home “sometime later” and found them unconscious, Cox said, and called 9-1-1, just after 8 p.m.

Town emergency medical services and Guilderland Police responded, Cox said, and immediately called for the Guilderland Fire Department. The fire department was called right away, Cox said, because “carbon monoxide at such high levels are very dangerous.”

At the highest levels, carbon monoxide can cause unconsciousness and danger of death in one to three minutes, according to the National Fire Protection Agency, a global not-for-profit organization that seeks to eliminate death, injury, and property and economic loss due to fire, electrical, and related hazards

Because of the generator running in the closed garage, Cox explained, first responders did not enter, but waited for firefighters, who would be equipped with self-contained breathing apparatuses.

While waiting, first responders broke some windows, to get fresh air in and let carbon monoxide out before firefighters arrived, Cox said.

After firefighters arrived, they brought the couple out to waiting EMS workers, who took them in separate ambulances to Albany Medical Center, Cox said. “From my understanding, they are still alive,” he said.

Morningside Drive neighbors had contacted The Enterprise this week, worried that the occupants of the now-vacant house had died.

Cox thought the couple might have been taken to a hospital in Syracuse that offers treatment in hyperbaric chambers. Cox said he had heard, a few days after the incident, that they were improving.

Cox did not know if the home had been equipped with carbon-monoxide detectors.

The chief of the Guilderland Fire Department, Michael Dempsey, did not return multiple calls.

The Albany County assessment rolls show 17 Morningside Drive to be owned by Mahmadnaim Vahora and Saberabanu Vahora.

Carbon monoxide is created when fuels such as gasoline, wood, coal, natural gas, propane, oil, or methane burn incompletely, according to the NFPA. In the home, heating and cooking equipment that burn fuel are potential sources of carbon monoxide, and vehicles or generators running in attached garages can produce dangerous levels.

Carbon-monoxide poisoning can be confused with flu symptoms, food poisoning, and other illnesses, according to the NFPA. Symptoms can include shortness of breath, nausea, dizziness, lightheadedness, and headache.

According to National Grid, indicators of high levels of carbon monoxide include — besides residents exhibiting symptoms — extremely stuffy, stale air and water condensation dripping on the inside of windows.

The NFPA advises that, when warming a vehicle, it should be removed from the garage right after it is started. Vehicles or other fueled engines should never be run indoors, even if garage doors are open. Exhaust pipes of running vehicles should be cleared of any snow.

Cox, who is also a longtime firefighter, added:

—  Portable generators should never be run inside a residence or directly beside it.

— When running a generator, and propping windows or doors open to allow cords through, homeowners should make sure that the exhaust is nowhere near where it could be drawn into the residence.

— Generators should not be hooked into a home’s electrical system, unless the work is professionally done. “If it’s rigged up, it could be dangerous for the electrical company working on the system,” Cox said;

— When power is out, residents should check on neighbors to make sure that they are comfortable and to see if they need anything.

According to the NFPA, in the United States in 2010, fire departments responded to an estimated 80,100 non-fire incidents in which carbon monoxide was found — an average of nine calls per hour. This represented a 96-percent increase from the 40,900 incidents reported in 2003; this rise is most likely due to the increased use of carbon-monoxide detectors, which alert people to its presence.

Since 2010, all residential and commercial buildings that have potential sources of carbon monoxide have been required to have carbon-monoxide alarms. As of April 2019, any alarms that are battery powered will be required to have 10-year sealed batteries.  

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