Guest opinion: Carbon monoxide awareness is essential
By the grace of God, my family and I are alive today. With the addition of a new entry roof on our house, our chimney was disconnected. Without knowing that the chimney was not vented correctly, we continued using our fireplace.
Three weeks later, we received the following email from the contractor in charge of the project: “Using the fireplace without proper termination dumps Carbon Monoxide into the attic adjacent to the kid’s bedroom and also creates a high risk of fire. DO NOT USE THE FIREPLACE UNTIL IT IS TERMINATED PROPERLY.”
For three weeks we had unknowingly put our entire family at risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.
After the tragic deaths of the Lofgren family in 2008 in Aspen from carbon monoxide poisoning, I am stunned this type of incident could have happened. I spoke with Andy Schwaller at the Garfield County building department, who confirmed that when dealing with utilities, particularly gas and electric, there is a guideline of “Lock Out, Tag Out.”
In our case, the gas line should have been disconnected from the appliance and capped and a prominent tag should have been attached directly to the appliance with a warning not to use. Further, carbon monoxide detectors should have been installed near the remodel as mandated by law. On the day the appliance was disconnected we should have been informed not to use the appliance. Andy Schwaller confirmed that our contractor should have supervised that these things were done to ensure a safe living environment.
The Lofgren and Johnson Families Carbon Monoxide Safety Act was signed into law by Gov. Bill Ritter in February 2009. The act requires that on or after July 1, 2009, all single-family and multi-family dwellings for sale or transfer with a fuel-fired appliance, fireplace or attached garage must have carbon monoxide detectors installed within 15 feet of any room used for sleeping purposes.
In addition, any single-family dwelling, multi-family dwelling, or rental property undergoing alterations, repairs, fuel-fired appliance replacement or additions where a building permit is required must have a carbon monoxide detector installed within 15 feet of any room used for sleeping purposes.
While carbon monoxide detectors are a critical safety measure, increased public awareness on the safe management of carbon monoxide among contractors, building inspectors and homeowners is needed. We urge that the Garfield County building department reinforce existing laws and guidelines and that homeowners understand the continued risk of carbon monoxide despite current law. We do not want a repeat of the tragic deaths of the Lofgren family.
Stephen P. Laird is a doctor from Glenwood Springs who practices in the Vail and Roaring Fork valleys.
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