BAR HARBOR — Officials are urging residents to keep heating system vents clear and ensure there is a working carbon monoxide (CO) detector in their homes after a family of four had to be taken to Mount Desert Island Hospital by emergency responders Tuesday morning. Poisonous fumes from a heater exhaust were blamed.
A mother and her three children living in an apartment at 21 Rodick Street called 911 just before 8 a.m. Tuesday after someone awoke feeling ill, Fire Chief Matt Bartlett said. Firefighters detected high levels of CO in the home and immediately got the residents out and took them for treatment, he said.
Further inspection found that the exhaust and clean air intake pipes from a direct-vent propane heater in the dwelling had been covered by drifting and blowing snow. The clogged vent pipes caused the poisonous CO fumes to back up into the home.
“Both pipes were buried under a considerable amount of snow,” Bartlett said.
The house at 21 Rodick is owned by David Hurley. The names of the family members taken for treatment have not been released by fire department officials.
Bartlett said that firefighters could not locate a working CO detector in the dwelling. He cautioned residents, whether they are renters or homeowners, to make sure that they have a working CO detector in their homes, as well as to make sure that direct-vent pipes are cleared of snow and other obstructions.
“If you have any type of direct-vent system, get out there and make sure the snow is not covering them up. You really have to make sure to get the snow well away from those so you get good air flow.”
According to the Northern New England Poison Center, the states of Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont typically see a total of eight CO exposure cases each week during the months of January and February. However, high levels of snow fall have led to a greater number of blocked vents. In the last week alone, there were 30 cases of exposure in Northern New England, the center reports.
Symptoms of CO exposure include headaches, nausea, confusion, loss of concentration, weakness and flu-like symptoms. The symptoms range from mild to strong depending on the extent of the exposure, Bartlett said.
“Even with lower amounts, if you stay in the exposed location for an extended period of time, you will start feeling the effects,” he said.
Firefighters were called to another residence Tuesday evening after an occupant reported the strong smell of “cabbage,” inside. Crews determined that septic system vent pipes on the roof were covered with snow forcing decomposition gases, which can include hydrogen sulfide and odorless methane, to enter the dwelling.
Bartlett said he could not stress enough the importance of having a working CO detector in every residence.
According to Maine law, the owners of any rental units are responsible for the installation of CO detectors, while the tenants are responsible for the upkeep of the devices.
“People really need to be aware and really need to have the CO detectors, especially when you get the extreme weather we’ve been having,” Bartlett said.
The fire department here is available to help any residents with making sure their heater vent pipes are kept clear and that their dwellings are safe, he said.
“If people have any concerns at all, we’ll be happy to assist them,” Bartlett said. The fire department can be reached at 288-3391.