Generator running in basement almost slays family of four

If your electricity goes out, and you want to use a portable generator – this story may save your life …

Officials say a portable generator, used in the basement of this Lents Neighborhood home, exhausted carbon monoxide fumes that nearly killed the residents.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
You can’t see or smell carbon monoxide (CO), but at high levels it can kill a person in minutes.

Early on Monday morning, February 9, Portland Fire & Rescue (PF&R) crews rushed to a Lents neighborhood home in the 10300 block of SE Harold Street. It wasn’t a fire that brought out the firefighters; officials say it was carbon monoxide poisoning.

“When crews arrived they found a family of four – one twelve-year-old child, and three adults – who had been exposed to extremely high levels of CO within their home,” PF&R’s spokesman, Lt. Allen Oswalt told us. “Three of the family members had gotten out; our crew located the fourth shortly after beginning a search of the house.”

The reason for the near-fatal incident, Oswalt reported, was that “The family was using a gasoline-powered generator in the basement of the home, so the noise wouldn’t bother their neighbors.”

This portable generator is set up outside of a home; there’s no chance for carbon monoxide fumes to enter the home. Generators can kill when operated indoors where they blow fumes into occupied areas. Paul E. Ashton photo

Tragedy narrowly averted
Oswalt said that, according to the gas-measuring instrument the crew took into the home, the generator’s exhaust caused their initial CO readings to nearly “peg the meter” at 300 ppm (parts per million). “Any level of CO is dangerous. For comparison, at 35ppm, firefighters are required to wear their self-contained breathing apparatus [air masks and tanks]!”

Carbon monoxide is produced whenever any fuel such as gas, oil, kerosene, wood, or charcoal is burned. “If fuel-burning appliances are vented, maintained, and used properly, the amount of CO produced is usually not hazardous,” explained Oswalt. “Hundreds of people die accidentally every year from CO poisoning which is caused by malfunctioning or improperly used fuel-burning appliances or equipment.”

© 2009 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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