Ellen Kobler, Deputy Director
Baltimore County Office of Communications
In my family, Christmas season is greeted every year with mixed feeling as we think about some very special family members who we’ve lost at Christmastime over the years. The death of our Uncle Tony from carbon monoxide poisoning 12 years ago is particularly troubling because it could have been so easily prevented.
Uncle Tony was a jovial, “more the merrier” kind of man who always showed up at your house with a big smile, a bag full of groceries and helpful hints about everything under the sun. He was proud of his service as an Air Force pilot and prouder still of his 14 grandchildren. A contractor by trade, Tony and his son fixed up houses and sold them at a tidy profit. He could take apart and repair absolutely anything and was always volunteering to pitch in to help family and his multitude of friends.
Uncle Tony and Aunt Peggy thought he had the flu – headache, fatigue, dizziness, nausea. Aunt Peggy’s sudden onset of heart palpitations was being monitored by a cardiologist. They didn’t know that carbon monoxide poisoning can produce the same symptoms.
Tony was a portly gentleman and the initial determination of a fatal heart attack seemed to make sense. Until the day of the funeral when other family members who had spent the night at the house came down with the same “flu.” My adult cousin Peg had gone to the ER with convulsions that were misdiagnosed as anxiety. Her brother Richard also went to the hospital that night. We found out during Tony’s funeral luncheon that their sickness was CO poisoning.
How ironic, that like many contractors, his own house was low on his list of priorities. My Aunt Peggy couldn’t remember the last time – if ever – that the furnace and flue had a routine inspection and cleaning. The buildup of carbon monoxide was caused by a concrete chunk that fell and blocked the furnace flue. There were no carbon monoxide detectors in the house.
Baltimore County actually requires CO Detectors in all rental housing and many owner-occupied homes. This is a smart policy that is proven to save lives.
So, my Christmas wish this year is that everyone who reads this will get their heating system inspected before the end of the year and add some $20 carbon monoxide detectors to their holiday shopping lists. It’s a gift that could save your life and the lives of the people you love.