Monday, May 21, 2007
7 News Investigations: Silent Killer
Hurricane season is just days away, and that means homeowners are getting ready to fire up their generators, but one mistake can lead to tragedy. The nightteam's Patrick Fraser shows you how not to become a victim to a Silent Killer.
WSVN -- "Enough of this!" South Floridians have said. We can't stand the hurricanes and those hot miserable days without electricity that follow, which is why thousands of people have bought generators.
Karen Marcus: "Great, we were going to have this. It was going to make life better, more convenient."
The Marcuses bought this powerful generator to provide a cool house. What could be better or, in their case, what could be worse?
Karen Marcus: "It's really a miracle that I survived."
Tim Marcus: "I remember waking up in the hospital, two days later."
The day Hurricane Wilma hit, their generator cranked up. Hours later, Tim, Karen and their twins were unconscious.
Tim Marcus: "The exhaust was being sucked right into the unit and right into the house, so you couldn't spread carbon monoxide any better if you wanted to."
Carbon monoxide, as deadly as a bullet to the head.
Charlie Bass: "Very real, it's a silent, deadly killer."
Time after time, in South Florida, when the generators are put in the wrong place, the fumes have killed.
Eric Johnston: "It's an odorless and noxious fume, and you can't even tell that it's there."
Time after time, when the generators are cranked up, firefighters are called out.
Mike Moser, a Coral Springs firefighter: "I don't think they are aware of how dangerous it really can be."
You can feel the hot exhaust pour out of a generator, but, the problem is, you can't smell it, so most people have no idea of the danger.
Eric Johnston: "I think very few people do. Mainly because it's like having a car running right outside your window."
To show us how quickly carbon monoxide can fill a home, Eric Johnston of Triton Generators set one up at an empty Coral Springs house.
You see this a lot: A generator outside a house, the extension cords run through a window to power a light or an appliance.
Patrick Fraser: "In the bedroom we set up a carbon monoxide detector. When the level reaches 200, it's trouble."
After a few minutes, the poison began to fill the room.
Eric Johnston: "It could be as little as five minutes, or it could be hours."
And since generators are so valuable, many people actually put them inside their garage or inside their house, near a door.
This man did. He was found dead.
Eric Johnston: "Unfortunately, we still do find people that have generators in their houses, in their garages, in areas they don't think are really dangerous, but, in fact, they are."
And if they are inside, the danger is multiplied.
We wore oxygen masks to safely stay in the room. Within minutes, the carbon monoxide detectors were screaming.
From the 200's -- which will give you a headache -- to 383 -- which will make you nauseous -- to 706.
At that level, without the masks, we would have quickly been unconscious.
Patrick Fraser: "We got to 700."
Eric Johnston: "700?"
Patrick Fraser: "Within five minutes. Would that kill somebody?"
Eric Johnston: "That would kill somebody if they were sleeping. They would never wake up."
And if you are awake, as the carbon monoxide levels rise, it destroys your ability to think clearly.
Eric Johnston: "You don't realize it impairs your judgment to where you don't make the logical decision that you should."
Generators can be dangerous, but not if you use them properly.
Eric Johnston: "It's safety, just like anything in the house. If you use it correctly and safely, you'll never have a problem."
Patrick Fraser: "There are two ways to protect yourself. First of all, buy carbon monoxide detectors -- they cost about $25, and you should put one in every room in the house. Secondly, keep the generators out of your house, actually, as far from your house as possible."
Eric Johnston: "So you do want to have it 10, 15, 20 feet away, and, again, pointing it away from the house is going to be key as well."
Tim says the people who installed his generator didn't do it right. It was just luck that his family survived.
Tim Marcus: "If our nanny hadn't come by on her day off to check on us, we wouldn't be here today."
So close to a death, it would have been so easy to avoid.
Tim Marcus: "Once I learned there was such things as carbon monoxide detectors, I thought this whole thing could have been avoided had we had one. Simple. End of story."
Detectors that will scream to warn you about a silent killer.
If you want to buy a carbon monoxide detector, most hardware stores carry them, and, if you have a generator, stock up before the season starts.