Carbon monoxide leak nearly disastrous for Richland family
Wednesday, November 27, 2019 | 2:53 PM
The DeVito family of Richland Township was spared from tragedy recently, and now they’re using their experience to spread awareness and help others stay safe from the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning.
“At the end of the day everyone’s OK, but for five minutes we did think that our three kids and another family member were dead,” Jason DeVito said. “I just think there needs to be more awareness out there.”
The incident happened back in October when DeVito and his wife, Rachel, went to Boston over the weekend with one of their four children in order to meet with specialists concerning their son’s treatment for a medical condition. Their other three children were at home being looked after by a family member.
The family wishes to keep the exact details of what happened private, but on a Saturday the carbon monoxide alarm went off in the middle of the night. Mistaking it for a smoke alarm and not finding any smoke, the family member assumed it was malfunctioning, disabled it and went back to bed.
The deadly gas, however, was already filling the home.
It wasn’t until early the next afternoon when a friend arrived at the house to pick up one of the children for a soccer game did anyone realize something was wrong.
“No one answered the door, so they texted us to say no one was home,” DeVito said. “We started calling and texting and weren’t getting any answer. We started calling to see if they made it to church, and I got a hold of a neighbor and she went over and was knocking and said it doesn’t look like anyone’s home.”
After DeVito gave her the code to the garage and they found the family member’s car parked inside, panic set in. The door from the garage to the house was locked but the neighbor called to her husband, who called 911 and was preparing to break in when the couple’s 7-year-old son, who’d been asleep in a top bunk, came down the hall.
“(The neighbor) said you could tell something was wrong, he was stumbling and having some trouble,” DeVito said.
At that point emergency responders arrived and found the other family members in bed. They were able to get everyone outside and they all made a full recovery with no long-term damage.
The family now hopes what happened can be a lesson for others.
For one, DeVito said, they thought that their carbon monoxide detector was monitored by their security company the same way their smoke detectors are, and were surprised to learn that wasn’t the case. For anyone with a security system, he said, it’s worth a check to make sure that everything is properly wired and being monitored. Although their alarm worked, he said, it was only internal and unfamiliarity with the home and likely the effects of the carbon monoxide itself impacted the decision-making that wouldn’t have been necessary had first responders been automatically dispatched through the monitoring service.
Tim Flaherty, chief of the Wexford Volunteer Fire Department, said that anything that burns fuel, from a furnace to a water heater to a car inadvertently left running in a garage, can leak carbon monoxide into the home.
Detectors are critical, he said, and it’s recommended that households have one on each floor, particularly near sleeping areas.
“Probably one of the biggest misconceptions when someone’s alarm goes off is we show up and they say, ‘I don’t smell gas,’ because people get confused, I think, with natural gas which is odorized so you can smell it,” he said. “Carbon monoxide is colorless and odorless so there’s no way to detect its presence (without a monitor).”
Another thing they learned, DeVito said, is that if you’re calling 911 from out of town they won’t be able to transfer you from, say, Boston to Pittsburgh. According to 911.gov, with few exceptions 911 calls can’t be transferred to other towns, cities or states. The best way to get help from out of town, according to the site, is to dial the 10-digit phone number for law enforcement in the town where help is needed. For Allegheny County, that number is 412-255-2927, according to Pittsburgh 311.
DeVito suggests saving that number in one’s cell phone just in case, as he now has. During the winter months with furnaces running and the holidays with people traveling, he also suggests making sure anyone staying in the house, whether as guest or sitter, knows where all alarms are located and what they do.
“We just don’t want this to happen to anyone else,” DeVito said.