â€œWe got the alarm more for security than anything else,â€ Dunton recounts. â€œWe thought if somebody was breaking in, we wouldnâ€™t have heard it in our bedroom. The bigger size of the house made us decide to get an alarm system.â€
Keith Creamer, an integrated systems consultant for American Alarm, thought the size of the house with its new addition and new systems justified installation of monitored carbon monoxide detectors.
It was that suggestion that ended up saving Dunton and McKeenâ€™s lives on Feb. 13, 2005, when their oil furnace turned on and began pumping carbon monoxide into their house because the tiles inside their chimney had fallen off and blocked the flue.
This life-saving event has earned American Alarm and Communications Inc., Arlington, Mass., the First Line of Defense Award, which is co-sponsored by SDM Magazine and the National Burglar and Fire Alarm Association (NBFAA), Irving, Texas, of which American Alarm is a member.
â€œWeâ€™ve been selling all notification devices for quite a while including low temperature, moisture, natural gas and carbon monoxide, so this was one of a suite of products,â€ declares Wells Sampson, American Alarmâ€™s vice president, about the addition of carbon monoxide detection.
He adds that carbon monoxide detection has been receiving a lot of attention in Massachusetts lately due to Nicoleâ€™s Law, a new state law named after a 7-year-old girl who died from carbon monoxide inhalation. The law now requires carbon monoxide detectors in all residential structures in the state with enclosed parking or heating equipment.
â€œIt was a tragic story, and this past fall, demand certainly has been picking up because of all the local news,â€ Sampson concedes. â€œBut most importantly, we had two additional lives saved in two separate cases this past fall as the heating season was kicking into gear.
â€œWe had two other residences where the detector went off, we notified the homeowner and called the authorities and were able to help them avoid injury,â€ Sampson relates. â€œSo we feel now thereâ€™s a pattern of success with protecting people thatâ€™s the whole mission of our business. Everyone in our whole company feels good when their work pays off in lives saved.â€
â€œAt that point, I was making a recommendation as far as what they should do on the burglar part, and thatâ€™s when I brought up they should do carbon monoxide detectors now with the potential risks in the new house,â€ he relates.
â€œNot that they werenâ€™t at risk before, but with the new addition, itâ€™s a large house, and I thought potentially they had more exposure because of some of the new appliances and systems in the house,â€ Creamer explains.
â€œWhenever weâ€™re selling anything, thereâ€™s always a little resistance,â€ Creamer admits. After the cost of installing the detectors, only an additional $2 monthly is required to add carbon monoxide monitoring.
Homeowner Dunton concedes that he at first resisted addition of the CO detectors. â€œIâ€™ve owned homes for 40 years now, and Iâ€™d never had an alarm system in any of them other than battery-operated fire alarms,â€ Dunton declares. â€œSo when we looked into this alarm system, and the fellow started talking about carbon monoxide detectors, I frankly resisted it.
â€œI thought he was kind of piling on,â€ Dunton admits. He and McKeen had just had an addition built onto the original house, which was heated with a 10-year-old oil furnace. â€œI wasnâ€™t interested.
â€œI knew you could have a problem, but I thought they were so incredibly rare, and with an oil-fired system and with the gas furnace being new in the new addition, I figured this was an unnecessary, added-on expense,â€ Dunton continues.
â€œHe pressed me on it and really encouraged me to go ahead and do it, and thatâ€™s why I wrote to American Alarm,â€ Dunton explains. Dunton wrote a letter thanking Creamer for his salesmanship after the life-saving incident. â€œIf he hadnâ€™t pushed back at my reluctance to buy it, we wouldnâ€™t have bought it, and weâ€™d literally be dead.â€
McKeen agrees and stresses that it was Creamerâ€™s salesmanship that convinced them to add on the carbon monoxide detection.
â€œJohn said to the guy, â€˜You know, what really could possibly go wrong?â€™â€ McKeen remembers. â€œAnd the salesman said, â€˜Youâ€™ll never know.â€™ That was kind of what made you think twice.â€
â€œI think for the minor extra charge to have it monitored and us responding to the house versus nobody responding to a battery-operated alarm is worth it,â€ he testifies. â€œIf thereâ€™s children or elderly in the house, or if it goes off in the middle of the night, will someone hear the beeping? Whatever the case, weâ€™re going to respond to the house.â€
Sampson agrees. â€œAt this point, itâ€™s such a public topic now that when theyâ€™re putting the quote together and walking through the home, [carbon monoxide detection] is an easy thing to bring up,â€ Sampson maintains. â€œItâ€™s a related topic, itâ€™s not viewed as peddling just another product. Itâ€™s viewed as a legitimate part of a life safety system.â€
Dunton now agrees. â€œAt the time it happened, we proselytized,â€ he admits. â€œWe were so taken by the incident, we ended up telling everybody we know â€“ it got to be an obsession with me.â€
The same morning that they escaped injury from lethal levels of carbon monoxide seeping into their home, they made breakfast and started telephoning friends and family. Those who did not have carbon monoxide detectors were given them by Dunton and McKeen that morning.
Later, all the employees of Duntonâ€™s employee benefits program company, Capital Benefits Group, Maynard, Mass., in which he is a partner, also received CO detectors.
It was a chimney blocked with tiles lining its interior that had loosened from steam produced by the furnace. Over time, the tiles had completely blocked the exhausting of the furnace.
That production of steam â€“ not poor combustion â€“ was what had caused the blockage. In a chimney without tiles, a blockage might not have occurred.
â€œWe found something had cracked the boiler unit, and it was producing a lot of steam, and over time this was going up the flue,â€ Dunton explains. Tiles probably had been falling for a while, he thinks.
â€œOne fell and another, and at some point, the critical one that night had let loose and finished blocking off the airway,â€ he relates. â€œThere was nothing getting through there.â€
The blockage was so complete that both sides of the chimney had to be broken to dislodge the tiles and repair it. The chimney has been rebuilt and the furnace replaced since then because it cost approximately 70 percent of the price of a new furnace to repair the cracked firebox, Dunton was told. The oil furnace was only seven months out of warranty, he adds ruefully.
The experience demonstrated to Dunton that carbon monoxide inhalation can result from many causes. â€œYou donâ€™t have to have a malfunctioning furnace to have a problem,â€ he points out.
Ironically, the homeowners had become aware of the death in January 2005 of Nicole Garofalo from carbon monoxide poisoning only a month before their incident occurred.
â€œWe live in an area where because of snow, you hear a lot about this,â€ McKeen observes. â€œThe snow piles up and the ducts get blocked.
â€œSo I think people think of it as something that relates to furnaces and happens mostly in New England, but when you think about it, what happened to us for whatever reason â€“ ours was a couple of tiles, the guy said it could have been an animal â€“ this is really something that isnâ€™t limited to a cold climate,â€ she points out. â€œYou donâ€™t have to live in a rundown house â€“ accidents can happen.
â€œThe public always thinks like we did until the salesman pushed John a little bit,â€ she admits. â€œWe have a good furnace, a new system, itâ€™s not going to happen to us. A lot of people donâ€™t realize itâ€™s something that could happen to anyone.â€
The first of these additional incidents occurred when a carbon monoxide alarm was received by Americanâ€™s security command center from a home in Wilmington, Mass., at 12:48 p.m. Oct. 2, 2005, a Sunday, reports Wells Sampson, American Alarmâ€™s vice president.
The security command center responded and called the fire department. Firemen reported a high reading of carbon monoxide, shut down the gas furnace, vented the house and suggested the homeowner call for repairs.
The second alarm was only a few weeks later, again on a Sunday, at 7:54 p.m. Oct. 23, 2005, in Cambridge, Mass. The central station operator contacted the homeowner, who requested that the fire department be called.
Firemen discovered a high carbon monoxide reading and vented the house. Residents went to the hospital to be checked for injury. The family had just turned on its radiant heating system that day, which firemen thought was not venting properly, Sampson relates.
In both cases, no serious injuries were reported, Sampson emphasizes.
Homeowners John Dunton and Carol McKeen had been out late both Friday and Saturday evenings Feb. 11 and 12, 2005, Dunton explains. They did not get to bed until 2 a.m. Sunday morning Feb. 13. Because of this, Dunton says they did not set their alarm clock and planned to sleep until they awakened naturally.
If it had not been for their carbon monoxide detection system, that natural wake-up never may have occurred. Instead, at 6:59 a.m., their alarm system was activated.
â€œWe were both jolted awake by the sound of the alarm, and it being somewhat new, at first we thought someone was trying to break in,â€ McKeen remembers. Then she remembered the keypad that American Alarm and Communications Inc., Arlington, Mass., had installed in their bedroom, and she went over to read it. It indicated the carbon monoxide detectors had set off the alarm.
Only 19 seconds after the alarm went off, Rosa Giulietti, a central station operator in American Alarmâ€™s security command center, contacted the homeowners.
â€œShe wasnâ€™t sure anything was wrong and thought the alarm system wasnâ€™t functioning,â€ Giulietti remembers about McKeen. â€œItâ€™s usually better to be safe than sorry, and I suggested sending the fire department. Like most of our customers, they were hesitant to do that, thinking it would be for nothing.
â€œI suggested they evacuate,â€ she continues. â€œIt was pretty cold out that morning from what I remember.â€ She asked about the type of heating system the building had.
â€œI asked only because I used to work in the oil industry, and I had a feeling it was the oil burner that set off the alarm,â€ Giulietti explains. She suggested they open the doors and windows and go to a neighborâ€™s house while she phoned the fire department to investigate.
Before the homeowners could get their coats on and leave the building, the fire department arrived and began testing the house, starting in the basement where the oil furnace is located.
â€œThey said there were lethal levels down there, and levels were high on the ground level of the house and a high reading in our bedroom,â€ McKeen relates. She asked one of the firemen how long it would have taken to affect them.
â€œI donâ€™t think he wanted to answer me,â€ she concedes. â€œHe said we were very lucky. I think given how tired we were, we were in a sound sleep, and we could very well have been killed. Itâ€™s unlikely either one of us would have woken up.â€
Giulietti followed up with the customers approximately 30 minutes later. â€œThe follow-up usually comes down to the same operator who handled it,â€ she notes.
Adds Dominic DelloRusso, American Alarmsâ€™ security command center manager, of Giulietti, â€œShe was involved from start to finish. We always follow through a half-hour later with everything we do with whoever we spoke with.â€
Established in 1999, this award recognizes the tangible values and rewards security and fire systems bring to communities and the nation. It honors the teamwork among security installing companies, central stations and emergency authorities in protecting customers and communities.
Entries are judged by percentage ratings in five areas:
Winning companies must be NBFAA members in good standing. To apply for membership in the NBFAA, visit the Web site www.alarm.org or call (888) 447-1689.
HOW TO ENTER
SDM magazine and the NBFAA now are accepting entries for next yearâ€™s First Line of Defense award. Eligibility of an event is for two years from Oct. 30, 2004, to Oct. 30, 2006.
To obtain an entry form, visit www.sdmmag.com or www.alarm.org. You also can call the NBFAA at (888) 447-1689.
â€œWeâ€™ve been installing carbon monoxide detectors for quite a while, but there was an accident last winter when a snowplow driver who was out plowing during a storm called home while on the road and got no response,â€ relates Wells Sampson, vice president of American Alarm and Communications Inc., Arlington, Mass. â€œSo he turned his truck around, drove home and found his family in trouble. They werenâ€™t very responsive.â€
The driver, Mark Garofalo, found his pregnant wife and two children unconscious in their home in Plymouth, Mass., during a heavy snow storm in January 2005. They were suffering from carbon monoxide inhalation caused by snow drifting over the vent for a direct-vented heating system. Nicole and the coupleâ€™s unborn child did not survive.
â€œMany new homes have direct-vented heaters or heating units, but the four-foot drift was enough to block the vent, causing the carbon monoxide buildup in the house,â€ Sampson explains. â€œSo that spawned a whole lot of effort in the legislature to push this bill through.â€
Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney signed Nicoleâ€™s Law Nov. 4, 2005. It requires working carbon monoxide detectors in all Massachusetts residences and buildings with three or more apartment units by March 31, 2006. Enforcement will be by local fire departments that will inspect residential buildings after sale or transfer.
â€œThereâ€™s some practical questions of implementation that are being figured out by the fire marshal, and weâ€™re waiting for the regulations to be finalized,â€ Sampson said at press time. â€œItâ€™s looking like carbon monoxide detectors will be required on each level for R-1 and R-2. It also states that they can be battery-powered, hardwired or wireless.â€
Sampson was not sure at press time what type of wireless devices would be accepted.
â€œThe other idea included in the regulation was having combination carbon monoxide/smoke detectors, so thereâ€™s some product technology thatâ€™s going on as well in the background as this regulation gets firmed up,â€ he observes.
â€œItâ€™s one of the hot topics at my state association, the Massachusetts Systems Contractors Association, because a lot of our members are getting requests from homeowners,â€ Sampson continues. â€œWe also do a lot of education through the association, and the instructors are getting all sorts of calls on this. So we are complying with the law, supporting the law and protecting the community as best we can.â€