By Doug Ireland
PLAISTOW — Three people are dead, a fourth hospitalized, after a furnace malfunctioned and filled their home with carbon monoxide.
Police and rescue personnel responded to a home at 5 Center Circle about 11:30 a.m. yesterday, finding an unidentified woman and two men unresponsive and a third man unconscious, Plaistow fire Chief John McArdle said.
All four appeared to have been in bed sleeping when they were overcome by the deadly gas, he said. Their names and ages had not been released as of last night.
A carbon monoxide detector in a first-floor hallway was inoperable because it did not have batteries, McArdle said. One bedroom was on the first floor and two others were on the second floor, he said. The victims were in those three bedrooms.
The third man was rushed to Lawrence General Hospital, then transferred by ambulance to Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston for treatment, McArdle said. The man’s medical condition was unavailable last night.
McArdle said police received a call yesterday morning from someone concerned that no one was answering phone calls at the home.
The deaths were linked to the propane-fired heating system in the basement, McArdle said. It was not known why or when the furnace malfunctioned, he said.
State Fire Marshal William Degnan was called in to investigate.
The deaths sent shock waves throughout the community.
Town Manager Sean Fitzgerald said police notified him about the incident shortly after the deaths were discovered.
“Obviously, we are very heartbroken and saddened by this tragedy,”he said. “It’s a very tight-knit neighborhood. It will be a tough loss for the town.”
Town assessment records show the home is owned by Kirk Walsh.
Neighbor Gail Vaughn of 9 Center Circle said she was surprised to receive a call at work from her 12-year-old son, who was dismissed from school early because of the snowstorm.
News of the deaths quickly spread through the neighborhood, she said.
Police and firefighters were still at the home when Vaughn arrived home about 4 p.m.
“It’s shocking when you come home and find all kinds of emergency services there,” she said.
Vaughn said she knew Walsh, but not very well. She said he and the others had lived in the home about three or four years.
Another neighbor, Frederick Brunelle, 80, of Center Circle, said he often saw the residents of the home come and go, but he didn’t know them.
“They haven’t lived here for long,” he said. “They kind of stayed to themselves.”
McArdle said people should make sure they working smoke and CO detectors in their homes. They should have heating systems checked regularly by a technician, he said
It’s also important that homeowners ensure all heating vents are kept clear of snow and ice, McArdle said.
The deaths come only five days after the state fire marshal’s office issued a warning about the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning in the winter.
“U.S. residential fire and carbon monoxide deaths and injuries account for far more fatalities in most years than all natural disasters combined,” Degnan said in a statement.
He spoke of a Manchester family recently overcome by carbon monoxide and hospitalized. The home did not have CO detectors, he said.
The dangers of carbon monoxide Carbon monoxide is known as the silent killer. It can't be seen, tasted or smelled. Carbon monoxide can be produced when furnaces, water heaters, dryers, generators or other such appliances malfunction, or when they are not properly vented, according to the U.S. Fire Administration. Symptoms of CO poisoning are headache, nausea or drowsiness. Exposure can be fatal. To avoid CO poisoning, make certain fuel-burning appliances are vented to the outside and kept clear of snow. Don't keep a vehicle running in a garage, even with the doors open, officials warn. Be sure exhaust pipes are free of snow. Never use a barbecue grill inside a dwelling or garage. Portable generators must be operated well away from any house, at least 10 feet. Additionally, fire officials say, every home should have CO detectors, as well as smoke detectors. Detectors should be installed on every level of a home and outside bedrooms. Smoke and CO detectors are not interchangeable, officials warn, and homes must have both. If a CO detector sounds, occupants should immediately go outside, then call 911 or the fire department.