Local News

Carbon monoxide alarm saves people sickened by generator fumes in Durham home

Posted October 15, 2015 1:38 p.m. EDT
Updated October 15, 2015 4:43 p.m. EDT

— Five people were taken to Duke University Hospital early Thursday after a portable generator running inside a Durham duplex sickened them, authorities said.

The generator was left running in the basement of 1205 N. Miami Blvd. overnight, and Kenneth Johnson, who lives in the other side of the duplex said his carbon monoxide alarm alerted him to the danger.

Johnson said he was getting ready for bed when the alarm went off. He initially thought the device needed new batteries, but when the alarm continued to sound after he replaced the batteries, he realized he and his neighbors needed to evacuate.

"I could actually hear the generator going," he said, adding that he thinks the generator was placed in the basement after the next-door neighbors complained that it was too noisy.

Firefighters were called to the duplex at about 3:15 a.m., and they had to remove one resident who was unconscious. Johnson and three other people were able to get out on their own.

All were treated at the scene before being taken to Duke Hospital, and they are expected to be fine.

Tests in the home showed a carbon monoxide level of 600 parts per million, and authorities said a normal level is no more than 9 parts per million. The colorless, odorless gas can cause headaches, dizziness and nausea, and prolonged exposure can result in loss of consciousness and death.

"From what I understand, there was no power to the home, so that's what they were using it for – that was their source of electricity," Deputy Fire Chief Chris Iannuzzi said. "They might have been running their refrigerator, or it's cold, it's getting colder at night, (and) they might have been using it to power portable heaters."

The Durham Fire Department urged that people operate portable generators only outdoors and keep the machines at least 25 feet away from the building. They also recommended that anyone with a generator or who has gas heat or appliances in the home have a carbon monoxide detector on each floor.

Johnson said he's grateful that his landlord installed carbon monoxide detectors in the duplex.

"Everybody needs to have one, definitely," he said. "If it starts beeping, don't even worry about changing any batteries. Just get out and call (911)."