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Heating death prompts warnings

January 18, 2000|By JULIE E. GREENE

BUNKER HILL, W.Va. - In the wake of a Berkeley County man's death from carbon monoxide poisoning, county fire and rescue officials are urging caution and common sense.

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People need to read the instructions before operating heaters or electrical generators, ensuring there is enough ventilation and the machines are operated properly, fire officials said.

Robert Ennis, 28, was found dead before 9 a.m. Monday in a home under construction in the Wide Horizon Farms subdivision off Quarry Road, according to West Virginia State Police and a county coroner.

Deputy Coroner David Brining said Ennis died from carbon monoxide poisoning because he had a kerosene heater, a small propane heater and a gasoline-powered generator - all of which emit carbon monoxide - operating in an unventilated area.

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Ennis was found in the basement of the home with the generator and heaters, Brining said. The carbon monoxide produced by the heaters and generator used up the oxygen in the basement, he said.

An electric generator should never be operated indoors, said Steve Allen, director of the Berkeley County Office of Emergency Services.

Allen said his office has been concerned about the potential dangers of generators since people started buying them to prepare for Y2K emergencies.

A kerosene heater should not be used while sleeping and is designed to be used as a supplemental heat source, Brining said.

Even though it's been very cold outside, people need to provide ventilation when using propane or kerosene heaters, Brining said.

"Read the operating instructions," Allen said. There should be an open space, such as a window cracked at least an inch, when operating most kerosene heaters or wood stove.

Besides operating such equipment properly, there are other precautions people can take against carbon monoxide poisoning.

While the poisonous gas is colorless and odorless, detectors are available for $30 to $60, Allen said. With the cheaper detectors, a red light indicates something is wrong. More expensive detectors provide a parts-per-million reading so users know how much carbon monoxide is in the air, he said.

Most homes should have a carbon monoxide detector, Allen said.

Those who think they may have a carbon monoxide leak can call the fire department or whoever services the furnace or flue to check the level, Allen said, adding his office gets 10 to 20 such calls a year.

Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are the same as the flu - sluggishness, nausea, dizziness and headache, Allen said.

"That's our problem right now," he said. "A lot of people are suffering from the flu."

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