Six families, consisting of nine children, one pregnant woman and 11 adults, are homeless after firefighters and code enforcement officers discovered deadly levels of carbon monoxide following two carbon monoxide (CO) alarms in Tamaqua yesterday.
The first call came in just before noon after tenants living at 332 West Broad St. called 911 after one of them started throwing up and the CO detector alarm went off. When police and firefighters arrived, they found levels of CO in the home to be above 170 parts per million.
Firefighters and police then knocked on the doors of two adjacent buildings at 330 and 328 W. Broad Street. When no one answered the door, they believed the dwellings were empty.
A short while later firefighters tried the doors again and eventually awoke a sleeping family at 328 W. Broad St.
Further investigation by police and firefighters found that the CO had spread into adjacent homes, 328 and 330 West Broad St. Six adults, four children and eight pets of 328 West Broad had to be evacuated.
"If the CO detector didn't go off, this incident could have ended tragically," said Tom Hartz, Tamaqua Fire Chief. "We believe the gas fumes might have prevented them from waking up.
"Luckily, no one was living in 330 West Broad at the time," added Hartz.
"My daughter is six-months pregnant and became really sick from the fumes," said Mary Ann Cole, who was one of two families evacuated from 332 West Broad. Her daughter was taken via ambulance to St. Luke's Hospital in Coaldale.
Firefighters also discovered a pipe on the floor of one of the apartments coming from the heater, that should have been in the flue of the chimney. Firefighters and code enforcement condemned all three row homes until repairs could be made.
About six hours later, another call came in from tenants living in an apartment building at 44 West Broad St. The response resulted in the evacuation of three families, comprised of three adults and three children. Firefighters and code enforcement had to condemn that property for related issues.
Carbon monoxide poisoning occurs after inhaling enough carbon monoxide (CO). Carbon monoxide is a toxic gas, but, being colorless, odorless, tasteless, and initially non-irritating, it is very difficult for people to detect. Carbon monoxide is a product of incomplete combustion of organic matter due to insufficient oxygen supply to enable complete oxidation to carbon dioxide (CO2).
Exposures at 100 ppm or greater can be dangerous to human health.
Hartz stated that in addition to having working smoke, fire and CO detectors in your home, people need to know the symptoms of CO poisoning. He mentioned that symptoms of mild acute poisoning include lightheadedness, confusion, vertigo, headaches and flu-like effects. Larger exposures can lead to significant toxicity of the central nervous system and heart, and even death.
According to the U.S. Center For Disease Control (CDC), long-term sequelae can often occur following acute poisoning. Carbon monoxide can also have severe effects on the fetus of a pregnant woman. Chronic exposure to smaller levels of carbon monoxide can lead to confusion, depression and, at times, memory loss. Carbon monoxide mainly causes adverse effects in humans by combining with hemoglobin to form carboxyhemoglobin (HbCO) in the blood. This prevents oxygen binding to hemoglobin, reducing the oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood, leading to hypoxia.
Tamaqua and Lansford paramedics on scene stated that treatment of CO poisoning primarily consists of administering pure oxygen. Oxygen works as an antidote as it increases the removal of carbon monoxide from hemoglobin, in turn, providing the body with normal levels of oxygen.
Tamaqua Councilman Brian Connely brought up the subject of deadly carbon monoxide fumes to the attention of council at yesterday's council meeting.
"We need to pass the message to everyone that carbon monoxide detectors installed in homes and apartments is important," said Connely. "Everyone should have them installed as soon as possible."
Connely noted that a Tamaqua borough ordinance requires that rental properties are to have working carbon monoxide detectors installed with fresh batteries in one or two rooms of the home or rental unit.
Both South Lehigh Street and parts of Hunter Street were closed by Tamaqua Fire Police during both responses.
All six families were offered and provided assistance, transportation and temporary housing by the Tamaqua Salvation Army and American Red Cross.