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Park City Fire District seeing uptick in carbon monoxide emergencies this winter

Now covering homes
Zdenar Adamsen
Snow-covered homes are beautiful but can pose dangerous, even deadly risks to those inside.

A Park City family’s frightening emergency highlights how dangerous carbon monoxide can be in homes.

A mountain town community like Park City lives for an epic winter and consecutive storms like the ones this season. But so much snow can cause problems. Big ones.

Mike Owens is fire marshal for Park City Fire District. He said one of the biggest risks is noxious gases getting inside homes from various outside vents which are usually above the snow. These vents are attached to appliances such as dryers, water heaters and furnaces.

Lisa Ballard, homeowner in Jeremy Ranch, feels deep gratitude for the Park City Fire District as she walks back in her home after spending the night in a hotel due to a terrifying carbon monoxide emergency.
Courtesy Summit County Sheriff's Office
Lisa Ballard, homeowner in Jeremy Ranch, feels deep gratitude for the Park City Fire District as she walks back in her home after spending the night in a hotel due to a terrifying carbon monoxide emergency.

“They are usually above the snow but if they are below the snow line and that snow is blocking those vents, then all of the carbon monoxide and all of the other gases that come from combustion, all of that stuff that normally goes outside is getting stuck in our homes,” Owens said.

He said carbon monoxide is challenging to detect because it’s odorless.

“So it circulates throughout your house really easily. It doesn't settle up high, it doesn't settle down low. It's very notorious for spreading itself.”

Lisa Ballard lives in Jeremy Ranch. Her family of five was hosting friends from out of town on New Year’s Eve when she noticed her children were more exhausted than usual and she had a slight headache. She also smelled gas.

“I opened the utility room and it was dripping, like wet. And it was hot, hot, hot. So I just knew right away there was problem," she said. "So I ran up to the bathroom and when I passed that carbon monoxide alarm, it was just coincidental it started like, freaking out, going off.”

Ballard called 911.

“They immediately were like get everyone out of the house. So we evacuated, sat out in the cars and then the fire department showed up. And they said, yep, you have like, you know, it was reading at like 46 and 52. So they said higher than 35 parts per million, the firemen should have oxygen on already.”

Ballard said the culprit turned out to be a large fan in the utility room that sucks in air from outside and circulates it throughout the house.

“The fan is so powerful in our ceiling that it will pull air from wherever it can get it, including the bad gas and air out of your boiler system," she said. "If that room’s not very well ventilated, which it wasn't that night, the carbon monoxide got trapped and got into the house.”

Ballard said the fire department turned off the boiler and opened the windows to air out the house while her family and friends waited in their cars for two hours in the middle of the night.

The fire department cleared them to come back into the home.

Here is where the story gets even more harrowing.

As she gathered the kids and her friends, who were ill with the flu, her husband came back outside and said, “we are not going back in.”

“What I understand happened was one of the firemen took the monitor, the tool that measures carbon monoxide, stuck it into our ceiling where we had a hole and found 100 parts per million in our walls,” she said. “So had we come back in and gone to bed, the two families without windows open, the firemen told me, I said what happens at 100 parts per million and he said you don't wake up.”

Owens said all carbon monoxide accidents are completely preventable by having carbon monoxide detectors, at least one on every floor, especially in rooms where there is a fireplace.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, only 30% of American homes have functioning carbon monoxide detectors.