Alarms Saved a Family of Five In Rubicon!
note: we received this story from the very lucky author who is happy to be
alive. He wrote this to encourage EVERYONE to install a Carbon Monoxide alarm.
(it's the law in California for ALL homes, new and old!)
January 18th, 2013 my family (myself, my wife and 19 month old
daughter) braved the three and a half hour drive up to my parent’s house in
Rubicon Bay on the west shore of Lake Tahoe. My sister and her family (husband
and 3 young children ages 9, 8 and 4) had been the last visitors up to the house
a couple weeks prior to take advantage of all the new snow that had recently
fallen. For several days, all of them experienced headaches, vomiting, nausea
and, in general, just did not feel well during the time they stayed at the
house. They chalked it up to altitude sickness and the flu season. They were
unaware that something much more sinister was taking place.
weeks later, my family of three pulled into the driveway and were getting ready
to unpack, then relax in front of the fire, after the long drive. I opened the
door only to hear a loud alarm beeping somewhere in the house. After mistaking
this for the burglar alarm and typing in the code (which didn’t turn it off),
I searched the house for the source of the alarm. Plugged in downstairs was a CO
alarm flashing the word “EVACUATE”. At first I did not really think much of
it, as these alarms had been placed in the house that very morning by the
caretaker at the request of my brother-in-law (same one who had been up a couple
weeks before). I simply thought that the alarm must have been installed
incorrectly. However, another identical alarm was doing the same thing in the
upstairs bedroom. We immediately took one of the alarms out to the garage and
plugged it in to see if it really was going off because of a CO danger. As we
were doing this, my wife and I started to discuss my sister’s family and how
they had been so sick when they had visited a couple weeks prior. We finally
realized that their symptoms were a match for CO poisoning and that there could
be a leak in the house. This was confirmed when I looked at the display screen
on the monitor I had placed in the garage. The numbers were decreasing rapidly,
and the alarm noise had shut off. I placed this alarm back in the house (still
not sure if this device was really working) and watched the numbers climb. At
this point, we decided to call 9-1-1.
gave our location and were given instructions to vacate the house immediately
while we waited for the firemen to arrive on scene. Once they arrived, we were
instructed to wait a safe distance from the house while they entered with
protective gear and a high tech CO monitor. As soon as they entered the house,
we could clearly hear their portable CO alarm sounding. The levels were lethal
and both firefighters told us that if we had stayed in the house overnight, none
of us would have ever woken up. This is something that shook me to the core as
my family (along with a friend and his daughter who were staying with us) could
have perished due to this silent killer. My sister’s family was also in danger
as they had been in the house for several days. My brother-in-law (a contractor)
had a feeling that it might have been CO exposure and requested that the
monitors be placed in the house. The placement of these monitors, without a
doubt, saved five lives.
firemen from Meeks Bay who came to the house were very professional, and gave us
detailed instructions on where to place the alarms. They also gave us several
suggestions on how to ventilate the boiler room, and guard against CO gas
accumulation in the house. Before this event, I never gave a second thought to
these devices as nobody ever thinks that this could happen to them. In fact,
this is a very common occurrence that can be guarded against by simply taking
some time to install a CO monitor in your home. I was surprised to learn that
you can experience CO poisoning from simply having a fire in a poorly ventilated
fireplace inside your home. There are many ways for this deadly gas to
accumulate so getting a monitor is essential in keeping your home safe. Turns
out our problem stemmed from an improperly installed pipe to our furnace. The
pipe did not have a proper CO “gas trap” so the gas had been leaking back
into the house. After some time the pipe actually broke which caused the spike
in CO gas by the time we arrived.
not for the CO monitors we would have attributed our symptoms to the altitude
and the long drive, and simply would have gone to sleep-forever. Scary. We all
feel very lucky to be alive.
Defending You and Your Home
from Mother Nature’s Onslaught of Snow
Ah yes, Mother Nature can be the bearer of fun, and she
can create times of havoc. The wonderful powder in November brought smiles to
many faces, as did the bountiful rainfall earlier in the fall. We might finally
break the spell of the drought that has gripped us for most of the past decade–last
year’s snowpack was deep, and this year has started off well with an abundance
As for the havoc, the recent onslaught of heavy wet
snow and rain, not only creates some bad avalanche danger, it can create all
sorts of hazardous problems for your house and health.
We all know that wet heavy snow (aka "Sierra
Cement") can damage your rails and decking (and your roof if you have an
older cabin). I’ve seen decks that were collapsed to the ground from the
overload. I’ve also seen houses that have been racked way out of plumb from
uneven snow loading on the roof. Some of the more hazardous issues that we’ve
seen over the years:
Crushed or buried chimneys and vents (furnaces, water
heaters, wall heaters, fireplaces). This can cause a backup of exhaust into the
structure and result in carbon monoxide poisoning. Every year, people die from
this problem. If you can’t personally dig out your vents and inspect your
chimney cap, hire someone –the cost will be worth it! Make sure the direct
vents on the sides of your house are above the snow level also–these can
easily be encapsulated and cause havoc. One year, over twenty people were sent
to the hospital when these vents backed up at a commercial lodge here at Tahoe.
Leaking gas lines or gas meters, due to an overload of
snow. We’ve seen houses blow up during the winter from compromised gas piping
or meters that leak. (Some may remember the downtown Truckee explosion that
killed one person.) Make sure you have an approved shed over your meter and dig
out it or your propane tank if you have either one. If you smell any gas odor
call 9-1-1, and vacate the area.
Dropped power lines. The heavy snow can pull down the
electrical power lines and riser to your house. High winds can also blow trees
through power lines. Live power lines on the ground are a definite hazard.
Always assume they are charged and keep people away from them. Call 9-1-1 and
report the hazard.
Frozen pipes. While not always a "hazard,"
when the pipes thaw, they can sure wreak havoc with your property, especially if
you aren’t there to catch it early and turn the water off. If you leave your
house for any length of time (i.e. second homeowners), turn off your water and
drain the pipes. Make sure you know where your water main shut-off valve is
located, and ensure that it works–old ones don’t always shut off entirely
and water can continue to flow. Keep some heat on in your house if you don’t
turn off your water and remember, not all heaters work when the power is off.
Slippery roads and walkways. If you have old, bald
tires, or worn out, studded tires, get some new treads, or use your chains. If
your shoes don’t hold on the ice, use one of the many devices that attach to
your shoes to give you better traction. Accidents and falls can hurt, and are
usually preventable...need I say more?
The mounds of snow can bury your address--we can’t
help you if we can’t find you. Please make sure your house numbers aren’t
buried and are easily visible from behind the tall berms of snow.
By the way, if you do have to call 9-1-1, please let
the dispatcher know which fire district you’re in--it will help immensely!
Dryer Fires Surpass Chimney Fires in U.S.
Most of us take our clothes dryer for granted: throw in
the wet stuff, push the button, wait a bit and the stuff comes out warm and dry.
Unfortunately, dryers cause numerous fires (over 16,000
per 2006 stats) and have led to numerous house fires. The stats that year showed
dryer fires led to 16 deaths, about 7500 injuries, and around $195,000,000 in
property damage. Wow!
Many of us know about cleaning our chimneys on a
periodic basis, however, how many of you check your dryer vent? The #1 cause of
dryer fires is a clogged vent. Lint ignites pretty easily, and the venting is
certainly not fire-proof.
Your dryer vent should be no longer than 25 feet. If
you have elbows and bends, it shouldn’t be more than 15 feet. The plastic or
thin foil corrugated vent pipes of yesteryear are not safe–change them out to
a smooth metal duct, with no screws or other penetrations that can trap the
Do not put petroleum soaked rags in a dryer as they
could cause a fire or explosion.
Yes, modern technology might be more convenient than
the old clothesline and pins, however, please take the time to make sure your
vent is clean so you don’t end up "drying" your entire house with
Give us a call if you have any questions: 530-525-7548.
Wildland Fire Prevention
Following are some of the forms we use in Wildland Fire
Tree Removal Permit
Removal Permit - TRPA
Rebate Process - Nevada Fire Safe Council
Fire - Evacuation
Gas System Safety
Safety Alert Letter
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