John R. Hall

I can talk until I am blue in the face about carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning. In fact, there are times when I have looked in the mirror and there is a bluish tint to my skin. Maybe I need to get more oxygen, or a few more rays of sun. The point is, I can talk forever and still people will be dying from CO poisoning. It’s the old adage of leading a horse to water.

My blood pressure went up a few notches recently when I read one of the many Google Alerts I get in my e-mail about CO deaths and injuries. This particular story was about four young men, not even in the prime of their lives, who were overcome by fumes from a gas-powered generator in a Pennsylvania home they were fixing up. CO took the lives of three 19 year olds and a 20 year old. The gas generator was allegedly in an unvented basement and powering an electric heater. My guess is the young men fell asleep and never woke up, unaware of the circumstances of placing a gas-powered appliance in a space where there is no ventilation and nowhere for the gases to escape.

I think you all can imagine the impact of this story on the family and friends of the victims. But I was mad about something else too - general media coverage of the story.

ADDING INSULT

I also viewed the video of a local TV newscast describing the tragic story. A TV anchor carefully read the scrolling text about the story and at the end of her report, she said, “The cause of the deaths was an electric space heater.” An electric space heater.

I don’t expect everyone to understand the laws of physics. Heck, I admit that I know less about physics than my teenage son. But I would expect a writer for a news organization to check the accuracy of the report before turning it over to a TV news anchor. It’s called editing, and I know firsthand how that works. There have been many times when our watchful production staff has caught my errors or questionable statements, and I have had to change them or explain them. In the case of this TV news writer, he or she should have reread the police report, which I can almost guarantee had pinpointed the source of the CO.

All of this points to bigger problems. First, the general media needs to do what it does best: to stir people up and encourage them to take action. TV, radio, and newspapers need to collectively or individually continue to beat the CO subject to death. Repetition brings awareness. And these media outlets should also include suggestions on how to prevent CO poisoning and where to get more information.

Where can people get these suggestions and information? From you, the HVAC business trade. HVAC contractors, suppliers, and manufacturers are the key sources of information on this topic because each manufactures, sells, and services the equipment that is often the source of CO poisoning - and not necessarily through any fault of how the equipment is made or installed. We (me included) all need to do a better job of educating the public on the dangers of CO.

Which brings me to my second point.

I GAVE A PARTY; NOBODY CAME

Several years ago I tried organizing a community awareness event in my city. With the help of a local HVAC contractor, equipment manufacturer, and some volunteer workers, I set up a “fun” educational night for families to learn more about CO. I staged the event at a local shopping mall and included games for kids and informational talks/literature for adults. I invited Detroit-area media to report on the event.

What I wound up getting were only a few people who had actually heard of the event and some walk-ins who wanted to know what the commotion was all about. What I didn’t get was any help from the local media and a lot of apathy on the part of people who knew about the event but just didn’t care about showing up to learn about CO. I guess I shouldn’t have scheduled the event right after dinner, when people were busy watching Jeopardy or Wheel of Fortune.

I have always said that until someone of great prominence is killed or injured by CO poisoning, the average person will continue to show apathy toward the subject. I had just hoped that the general media would have caught on by now. If you have any suggestions or ideas that have worked, I am all ears (with a tinge of blue on the lobes).

Publication date: 03/03/2008