Niagara Gazette

January 27, 2014

Local family warns of invisible killer

By Michael Regan
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — A North Tonawanda family says they’re lucky to be alive after exposure to high levels of carbon monoxide Jan. 5 in their Niagara Parkway home sent several people to the hospital. 

Retired teacher Kathy Hazuda said the first signs of poisoning arose several days earlier, when her mother, Bernice, who lives with her, took a sudden fall at a local supermarket. 

A few days later as the family was preparing to head to Sunday mass, it happened again.  

“I woke up for church, had breakfast and tried to get my niece out of bed,” Hazuda said. “I was downstairs when I heard a bang.”

That bang was Bernice hitting the floor for the second time in three days, while Hazuda herself also displayed symptoms related to extremely high levels of carbon monoxide, including headaches and stomachaches. Her niece, who had just arrived in town and was sleeping upstairs, described feeling overly tired. 

The fall caused Hazuda to call 911, while the combination of illnesses initiated her request to North Tonawanda fire officials to check carbon monoxide levels.  

“It was off the charts,” she recalled. “They said, ‘get out of the house.’” 

The family members spent the next several hours receiving oxygen at DeGraff Memorial Hospital and stayed that night at a relative’s home. A series of visits from contractors and fire officials soon followed. 

But while many people ignore threats in their home, the Hazudas had done just the opposite. 

They routinely checked their smoke alarms, had their boiler regularly serviced and annually inspected the lone carbon monoxide detector installed in the home in 2006. It never occurred to Hazuda that they’re might have been a danger lurking. 

That scenario plays out dozens of times each year in the Lumber City said Assistant Fire Chief Tom Croop, though most often with less preparation. And while there have been no local deaths recently attributed to carbon monoxide poisoning, exposure appears to be on the rise. 

In 2013, there were 114 calls to the North Tonawanda Fire Department for elevated levels of carbon monoxide, 23 of which Croop called “legitimate” and 91 of them related to equipment malfunctions. The department received 97 calls in 2012 related to carbon monoxide, with 77 of them due to alarm malfunctions. 

But while Hazuda took precautions, and has since bolstered the home against the possibility of future dangers, many others risk death from carbon monoxide poisoning, which has no odor and often kills people exposed to the gas as they sleep. 

“If it happened to us while we were sleeping we may not have gotten up,” she said. 

Croop highlighted the recent efforts made by New York state officials to boost measures that ward off carbon monoxide poisoning through Amanda’s Law, named after a Buffalo teenager who perished in 2009 as she slept in a friend’s basement. The release of inordinate levels of the gas from a defective boiler was deemed the cause of her death.  

A year later, in 2010, a state law was passed requiring carbon monoxide alarms to be installed in homes with fuel-burning appliances or an attached garage, while the National Fire Protection Association advises they be placed outside sleeping areas and replaced every five years. 

Hazuda and her family have taken heed of that advice and in fact may have been the exception to the rule. She has since purchased three new CO detectors for each floor of the house, while there have been no signs of carbon monoxide over the last several weeks.  

“I probably checked them five times a day at first. Now it’s once every other night,” she said. 

But while the family looks at the incident as a near-death experience they also want to use it as a lesson learned, one they can pass on to others in the community. 

“If it can happen to us it can happen to anyone,” Hazuda said. “If there’s no date on your detector get a new one.”