CO deaths could have been prevented

Special to The HeraldJanuary 27, 2014 

In response to the Jan. 9 news story in The Herald concerning the criminal charges related to the deaths of Jeffery Williams of Rock Hill, Daryl and Shirley Jenkins of Washington State and the serious injuries suffered by Jeffery’s mother, Jeannie, due to carbon monoxide poisoning at a Boone, N.C., hotel, the York County Natural Gas Authority (YCNGA) would like to make a public statement.

First and foremost, we at YCNGA express our sincere sympathies and condolences to the Williams family and to the Jenkins family for the senseless and avoidable tragic losses they have suffered. Our thoughts and prayers go out to everyone who has been impacted, and we hope that Jeannie fully recovers from her injuries. Jeffery’s uncle is a long-time employee of ours, so this hits us especially close to home.

In reading the investigative stories in The Herald and other news media, it clearly appears from the reports that there were many alleged missteps that contributed to the deaths and injury – the most egregious of which was the improper installation of the 5-year-old pool heater by unqualified personnel and the failure to have it properly inspected. From our point of view, after the deaths of Mr. and Mrs. Jenkins, the reports certainly indicate that standard procedures and precautions were not acted upon to ensure the proper and safe conversion from propane to natural gas for the pool heater. These safeguards should have prevented the death of Jeffery Williams and the injuries to his mother.

As discussed in the article, Damon Mallatere, president of Appalachian Hospitality Management, faces criminal charges related to the deaths and injury. Through his attorney, Mr. Mallatere lays the majority of the blame for the tragedy on Independence Oil and Gas, the contractor that converted the pool heater from propane to natural gas. The responsibility and blame or guilt will be decided in the criminal and civil courts. However, nothing can bring back Daryl and Shirley Jenkins and Jeffrey Williams.

We hope future deaths can be avoided by the simple adherence to the standard procedures and precautions that are necessary when installing and using natural gas and propane-related products. Often called the “silent killer,” carbon monoxide (CO) is an invisible, odorless, colorless gas created when fuels (such as gasoline, wood, coal, charcoal, natural gas, propane and oil) burn incompletely. In homes and in businesses, any heating and cooking appliances that burn fuel can be sources of carbon monoxide. The following steps should be taken to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning:

• Appliances should be installed in accordance with manufacturers’ instructions after seeking proper permits, using qualified installation contractors and with follow-up inspections, when required.

• Have your furnace cleaned and inspected yearly.

• Use carbon monoxide detectors in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions.

• If you need to warm a vehicle, remove it from the garage immediately after starting it. Do not run a vehicle or other fueled engine or motor indoors, even if the garage doors are open. Make sure the exhaust pipe is unobstructed.

• During and after a snowstorm, make sure vents for the dryer, furnace, stove and fireplace are clear of snow build-up and other obstructions.

• A generator should be used in a well ventilated location outdoors and away from window, doors and vent openings.

• Gas or charcoal grills should be used only outside.

• If you are experiencing headaches, nausea, dizziness or confusion, leave the house. Call the fire department or York County Natural Gas Authority.

York County and the various municipalities are fortunate to have top quality Building and Codes departments and well qualified inspectors with whom we work closely. They work to ensure the safe installation of appliances by all contractors, including YCNGA.

Natural gas is a safe, clean dependable fuel. It is used as an energy source in millions of homes, businesses and industries throughout the United States. In the more than 56 years that YCNGA has been in operation, I know of no incidence of a death or injury from carbon monoxide to one of our customers from the use of our product.

However, as with any energy source, it is important that our customers use it safely and properly. With proper precautions and awareness, a tragedy such as the one that occurred in Boone should not happen to anyone.

James A. Heckle is president and CEO of the York County Natural Gas Authority.

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