St. Martin family has carbon monoxide scare

This article submitted by Linda Stelling on 2/25/97.

What started out as a peaceful, quiet evening could have had a tragic ending for the Dennis Orbeck Family. On Feb. 17 at about 1:20 a.m. an alarm from the carbon monoxide detector in the Orbeck kitchen sounded a steady beep. The sound woke up Dennis and Betty Orbeck whose bedroom is just around the corner from the alarm.

ďThe alarm normally reads zero,Ē Dennis said. ďBut when we woke up, it read 120. The directions state the alarm will sound after it reaches 100.Ē The Orbecks did not know if they should take the alarm seriously or not. They pushed the reset button, opened a kitchen window and when nothing happened, they went back to bed thinking the alarm was defective. However, they did not sleep comfortably because of the alarm and its implications. After laying in bed for 10 to 15 minutes they went back to recheck the alarm and the number was up to 17.

The Orbecks woke up their two older children, Ryan, 8 and Stacy, 5, who were sleeping upstairs. Luke, 2, who was asleep on the living room couch as he is scared to be upstairs, never woke up through all the commotion.

Dennis gave the furnace a quick check and everything appeared fine. The family opted to spend the rest of the night at his motherís house, Gladys Orbeck, a mile away. ďMom welcomed us with open arms and told us to use the spare beds,Ē Dennis said.

Dennis and Betty went back to the house at 6 a.m. to grab some clothes and check the alarm. They could hear the alarm still beeping through the open kitchen window. Upon entering the house, they found alarm had a reading of 251. Dennis rechecked the furnace and found creosote around some bricks where the mortar had crumbled. Before leaving for work, they opened more windows.

One of the first things Orbeck did upon arriving at work was to call a furnace repair man to check the furnace. The repairman found a brick blocking the chimney. The Orbecks have lived in the old brick farm house eight years and had not had any problems up until this time. Orbeck feels the warm weather and ice melting, caused the bricks to crumble.

ďWe were told that if we had spent the night in the house, we would not have awaken in the morning,Ē Betty said.

The Orbecks purchased their carbon monoxide detector two years ago after several close calls and fatalities were reported in the news. ďWe had three smoke detectors in the house and always check them when we change the clock,Ē Dennis said. ďWith the carbon monoxide detector sounding off, the smoke alarms never sounded. It shows how different there sensitivity levels are.Ē

The Orbecks did not return to the house until after work that afternoon. Gladys Orbeck check the alarm reading in the house off and on throughout the day. ďWe have more faith and respect for the need of carbon monoxide detectors now than ever before,Ē they said.

The label on the back of their carbon monoxide detector stressed that homeowners need to :
1) Leave the house if they have headaches or upset stomachs...call the fire department.
2) Operate the reset button
3) Turn off appliances, vehicle or other sources of combustion
4) Get fresh air into premises by opening windows or doors.
5) Fix the problem before restarting.

Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning: sleepiness, nausea, vomiting, headache, blurred vision, dizziness, irritability, difficulty thinking and coma. Note: flu-like symptoms can be due to carbon monoxide poisoning. Beware of several family members complaining of flu symptoms the same day.

Sources of carbon monoxide: fires, gasoline-powered engines, faulty heating equipment, gas water heaters, kerosene or propane space heaters, charcoal grills, and paint remover.
Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless deadly gas. Because you canít see, taste or smell it, carbon monoxide can kill a person before they know it is there.

An estimated 3,500 to 4,000 deaths occur each year as a result of carbon monoxide poisoning, making it the leading cause of death due to poisoning. About 10,000 people lose a day of work or seek medical attention each year because of carbon monoxide poisoning. As people attempt to conserve heat by making their homes ďairtight,Ē the incidence of poisoning increases, states the Hennepin Region Poison Center.

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