Carbon monoxide sickens family, fire chief urges caution with generators

  • Tuesday, March 6, 2018 12:30pm
  • News

Last week, Vashon Island Fire & Rescue responded to a call where four members of a family suffered the effects of carbon monoxide poisoning, prompting Assistant Chief Bob Larsen to urge islanders to be careful when using generators.

He stressed that generators must be used outside and only in well-ventilated areas, not underneath a window or a low roof that would trap exhaust, and not in a garage.

He said the family last week was lucky in how this experience turned out.

“We are very fortunate to be able to write this story this way,” he added.

Firefighter/emergency medical technician (EMT) Wes Paulsen was among those who responded to the incident. Initially, the call came in as child CPR in progress, he said, but by the time responders arrived, there were three patients outside: a mom, a toddler and an infant. The mother was lethargic and confused, he said, leading responders to question environmental factors, as the problem extended beyond a sick child.

Paulsen said he and others on the scene learned the family had been living in a travel trailer with an onboard generator and had been using it since losing power. Its exhaust apparently leaked into the home. Carbon monoxide levels measured high, he added, at a level too dangerous for anyone to be inside.

The family members, which included the mother, toddler and infant at the home, were treated on scene with high-flow oxygen. Two other children from the family were picked up from Chautauqua and also transported with them to Harborview Medical Center for further assessment and treatment.

Paulsen credited the mother with the positive ending to the story. Originally, he said, she had been unable to wake her 2-year-old from a nap, and then she started to feel unwell and moved everyone outside into fresh air.

“That is the whole reason they are OK,’ Paulsen said. “She was the real hero in that instance.”

Brigitte Schran Brown also responded to the call and, like Larsen encouraged people to be careful with generators.

“Please be careful,” she said. “If you do not know how to use one or have questions, stop by the fire station or the hardware store and ask. Generators have caused carbon monoxide poisoning and fires on this island. They are not something to take lightly.”

Brown, an EMT and fire commissioner, noted the department was fully staffed the day of the incident, and even so everyone was busy with this call — a serious one that could have turned out far worse.

“It shook us to the core,” she said.

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