DeVere R. Clay, 68, and his wife, Barbara J. Clay, 57, and their grandchildren Erin Briney, 10, and Hope Briney, 13, all of Tomah, died of carbon monoxide poisoning while sleeping in the living quarters of their horse trailers in an Alliant Center parking lot during a horse show. A gas-powered heater used to keep the trailer warm malfunctioned.
The parents of the Briney children sued the manufacturer of the heater, Mr. Heater Corp., and in June settled for more than $250,000, according to online court records. Jay Urban, the attorney for the Briny children, said his clients actually got much more than that. "I can tell you it was substantial," Urban said.
You cannot see or smell carbon monoxide (CO), but at high levels it can kill a person in minutes. It is the leading cause of poisoning death, with over 500 victims in the United States each year.
Carbon monoxide is produced whenever a fuel such as gas, oil, kerosene, wood or charcoal is burned. The amount of CO produced depends mainly on the quality or efficiency of combustion. A properly functioning burner, whether natural gas or liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), has efficient combustion and produces little CO. However, an out-of-adjustment burner can produce life-threatening amounts of CO without any visible warning signs.
When appliances that burn fuel are maintained and used properly, the amount of CO produced usually is not hazardous. But if appliances are not working properly or are used incorrectly, dangerous levels of CO can collect in an enclosed space. Hundreds of Americans die accidentally every year from CO poisoning caused by malfunctioning or improperly used fuel-burning appliances. Many more people are harmed to some degree each year.
Proper installation, operation and maintenance of combustion appliances in the home are most important in reducing the risk of CO poisoning. Some rules are:
- Never idle the car in a garage, even if the garage door is open. Fumes can build up very quickly in the garage and living area of your home.
- Never use a gas oven to heat your home, even for a short time.
- Never use a charcoal grill indoors, even in a fireplace.
- Never sleep in a room with an unvented gas or kerosene space heater.
- Never use any gasoline-powered engines (mowers, weed trimmers, snow blowers, chain saws, small engines or generators) in enclosed spaces.
- Never ignore symptoms, particularly if more than one person is feeling them. You could lose consciousness and die if you do nothing.