Jan. 12--Two Vallejo residents may owe their lives to the Vallejo Fire Department, after they lost consciousness trying to escape their home that was filled with carbon monoxide gas Friday.
It is not clear what condition either of the two 20-somethings were in later in the day, but they were unconscious at the time they were rescued, Vallejo Fire Department spokesman Kevin Brown said.
At approximately 10:30 a.m., Vallejo firefighters responded to a report from an adult male, of a possible carbon monoxide poisoning at 901 Georgia St.; a Victorian style home that has been converted in to four separate apartments, he said.
Initial arriving crews made entry into the building when they noticed an unconscious adult male at the entrance of the reported upstairs apartment, he said.
"Firefighters determined that immediate rescue was needed, meaning they did not have time to don all personal protective equipment," Brown said. "While removing the adult male, an adult female was also located, unconscious inside the apartment."
Both unconscious patients were quickly removed from the building. Once the 24-year-old man and 21-year-old woman were removed from the building, additional fire resources were ordered, Brown said. The building was fully evacuated, and roughly half of the residential block was shut down to traffic, temporarily. PG&E was also requested to assist with locating the carbon monoxide leak, he said.
While both patients were breathing at the time of rescue, the man stopped breathing in the ambulance, but restarted on his own with the application of oxygen, Brown said. The woman was breathing the whole time.
Six ambulances were requested, in case any of the building's other four residents was affected, but, they weren't needed.
"There were no audible alarms sounding when firefighters got there, but we were told by a neighbor that they heard an alarm going off all night," Brown said. "It must have been sounding until the battery died."
PG&E was also called, and their technician found the couple's apartment's wall heater was the origin of the leak.
Firefighters' carbon monoxide monitors began sounding during the rescue operation, reading 300 parts per million in the shared hallway, Brown said. At this level, loss of life can occur within hours of exposure, he said.
"Anything above 35 is considered harmful," he said. "Over 200, is potentially lethal. Since this was the hall outside the unit, inside the unit the reading was likely much higher."
Several firefighters were treated for mild carbon monoxide exposure at the scene, he said.
By later Friday afternoon, Brown said he'd learned that the man, who was the most critical, was likely to be taken to a hyperbaric chamber, the nearest one of which is in Davis, Brown said.
Brown said calls for possible carbon monoxide poisoning are fairly common, usually in the winter when heaters are turned on for the first time. Since carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless gas, the signs to look for are severe forehead-area headache, followed by nausea, confusion, unconsciousness and possibly death.
There have been no such deaths in Vallejo in the seven years Brown's been in the fire department, though there was a close call a couple of years ago, he said.
"It was also in winter, in east Vallejo, a single-family residence, when an entire family was affected. Everyone survived," Brown said. "The alarms are designed to go off at 35 parts per million, so we usually catch these cases early."
Carbon monoxide can escape into a place if the heater's pilot light goes out, a common cause, Brown said. "But any gas appliance can do it -- stove, dryer, or anything that isn't burning cleanly," he said.
For the past seven years, California law requires all dwellings to have a carbon monoxide and a smoke detector. Replacing these are the responsibly of the property owners.
"The law went into effect seven years ago, and the devices typically expire at seven years," so everyone should check their detectors, Brown said. On the back of each one should be a date, and if it's closing in on seven years ago, it's time to change it. If you can't read the date, it's probably older than seven years, and time to change it, he said.
"Two points we'd like to stress," Brown said. "The use of our '4 Gas Monitors' and the decision to make rapid rescues are likely what made the difference in saving the lives of the two unconscious patients. The decision to quickly evacuate the building may have saved additional lives."
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