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Woman lucky to be alive after carbon monoxide detector fails

Carbon monoxide detectors are meant to save lives. But what happens when your carbon monoxide detector fails to work?

Sharon Fall of New Richmond is lucky to be alive after the detector in her home failed to work during a cold day in January.

Fall had just returned from a doctor's appointment and was having a cup of coffee at home. She was feeling quite sleepy and nearly sat down to take a nap in her husband's recliner. Instead, she remembered she had laundry that needed to be done.

It was a move that likely saved her life.

She opened the washing machine and the house filled with fumes.

"It was like somebody poured Clorox over the whole house," she said.

She got out of the house and called the police. The police then contacted an Xcel Energy employee.

"He came into the house and his detector went off immediately," Fall said.

Vent blocked

Ice had built up around the furnace vent that exited the outside wall of the Falls' home. The fumes she was smelling were the back up from the furnace because its vent pipe was completely blocked.

Tim Pitzen of Advanced Heating and Air Conditioning checked the Falls' home and found the furnace vent that exited the side of the house had been completely blocked.

Pitzen recommends visually inspecting your vents, whether your furnace vents the side or roof of your home.

"Visually inspect it once a week when it's very cold," Pitzen said. "It usually will thaw itself, but ice can accumulate. The colder it is, the more likely it is to freeze."

Pitzen said a furnace maintenance program can help prevent such accidents, and have your vent pipe inspected as part of the maintenance program.

Detector fails

When the Xcel Energy employee entered the Falls' home, he took his detector to where the Falls' carbon monoxide detector was plugged into the wall. His detector continued to sound, while the Falls' detector continued to show a bright red "0" on its display board.

Walt, Sharon's husband, called the maker of the carbon monoxide detector, justifiably upset that the device had failed to work. He was even more upset over the company's response.

"They said after seven years, those things are no longer good," he said. But nowhere on the packaging for the product was there any mention that the carbon monoxide detectors wear out.

"I'd imagine there are a lot of people out there who are depending on them and they are no longer any good," he said.

The maker

The maker of the Nighthawk brand detector, Kidde Incorporated, was contacted several times for the story but did not return any requests for information.

When the Falls had contacted Kidde, they were told that carbon monoxide detectors do wear out and need to be replaced.

Dave Newman
Dave Newman has been the sports editor at the New Richmond News since 1988. He has covered the action in the Middle Border Conference, Dunn-St. Croix Conference and Big Rivers Conference for nearly 30 years.
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