Alarm detects high CO level

Balto. County considers new rental-unit rules

December 14, 2009|By Robert Little | Baltimore Sun reporter

Firefighters detected potentially lethal levels of carbon monoxide inside a Middle River rental home over the weekend, days before elected officials are set to take up a measure that would require every rental unit in the county to install devices to detect the dangerous invisible gas.

Emergency crews arrived at a home on Bellanca Court early Saturday and detected carbon monoxide levels of more than 220 parts per million, according to Baltimore County Fire Department Division Chief Michael Robinson. County guidelines call for immediate evacuation whenever levels higher than 100 parts per million are detected.

After shutting off the home's gas-burning appliances and monitoring as maintenance workers adjusted and turned them back on, firefighters left only to return again Sunday, when the carbon monoxide alarm sounded again. No gas was detected the second time, Robinson said.

The home, located in the Commons at White Marsh community near Middle River Middle School, is managed by Sawyer Realty Holdings. The company alsomanages the Cove Village Townhomes community in Essex, where more than 180 carbon monoxide-related calls have been logged since 2005, when three people died there from exposure to the gas. A Sawyer spokesman said maintenance workers were at the home after both incidents this weekend and plan a detailed inspection of the property today.

Emergency crews were called to Bellanca Court because the unit's carbon monoxide alarm had activated. They ventilated the home, shut off its gas burning appliances and waited as maintenance workers checked the appliances and turned them back on. Carbon monoxide can be produced by improper combustion in gas appliances, and Robinson said the unit's furnace was the suspected source.

Initial reports from the scene Saturday said that a pregnant woman was suffering symptoms of exposure, but Robinson said medics arrived to find the unit's occupants waiting in a car outside and that none of them required treatment.

After the second alarm Sunday, which was deemed a false alarm, the management company plans to replace the detector, Robinson said.

The weekend alarms came just as the Baltimore County Council is preparing to debate a bill designed to protect against exposure to carbon monoxide, which is responsible for a growing number of emergency calls in the area. State law already requires all dwellings built after Jan. 1, 2008, to have carbon monoxide detectors, but the new law would require rental units built before that date to have the detectors in the "common area outside of, and audible in, each sleeping area."

The Council is scheduled to discuss the bill, introduced last month, at a meeting Tuesday, and a vote on the measure is expected Dec. 21. County fire officials have said they expect more than 1,400 carbon monoxide incidents this year, up from 895 received in 2005.

The College Park-based Sawyer, which owns Cove Village and the Commons, installed carbon monoxide detectors in its apartments and townhouses voluntarily after the deaths in 2005. At Cove Village, the company has spent more than $600,000 on repairs and new appliances, but the carbon monoxide calls have continued. The spokesman said Sawyer will make any repairs necessary at the Middle River complex as well.

The Commons at White Marsh has had other carbon monoxide related emergencies, including an incident in August that sent 10 people, including six children, to the hospital. Earlier incidents were traced to dirty filters and a flue pipe that had been clogged by a bird's nest.

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