MIDDLESEX COUNTY, NJ — Central New Jersey homeowners flooded local utilities and fire departments with phone calls asking for inspections of their heating systems after five Middlesex County residents were killed by carbon monoxide fumes in their homes. The story was reported in the New JerseyStar Ledger.

"Everybody's a little uptight," said Colonia Fire Chief Michael Mackey in the Star Ledger story. Mackey's department covers the neighborhood where four members of a family were found dead in their home last week of apparent carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning. It was believed that the four had been killed by the CO gas that filled their house as a result of a blocked chimney and a leaky furnace.

Just one day after their bodies were discovered, a 76-year-old woman in a nearby community was found dead in her mobile home after carbon monoxide from a kerosene heater overwhelmed her. An autopsy showed that she died of asphyxia due to a high level of carbon monoxide in her blood, Assistant Middlesex County Prosecutor Thomas Kapsak said.

The Star Ledger reported that "news of the five deaths, and additional reports of carbon monoxide poisonings in New York City, had some Garden State residents on edge as wintry temperatures set in and furnaces were fired up."

Several hundred nervous customers called NUI Elizabethtown Gas, inquiring about furnace safety, according to company spokesman Chris Reardon. Usually, the utility company — which serves 250,000 homes and businesses — sees a spike in heating inspections at this time of year, but he noted that crews have been flooded with requests to check homeowners' furnaces and vents.

"We do believe it's because of the incidents this week," Reardon said.

The company regularly mails heating safety tips with monthly bills, the spokesman said, adding that the company will resend the tip sheets in a few days because of the recent tragedies.

The Star Ledger reported that Woodbridge, NJ, Mayor Frank Pelzman is urging all township residents to install carbon monoxide detectors in their homes.

"It needs to be done," Pelzman said. "I know they cost more than a smoke alarm, but for around $30, it's money well spent."

Publication date: 11/04/2002