If it wasn’t for a winter power outage and some quick thinking from neighbours, Agassiz couple Doug and Verna Platt may have died.
Unknown to the Platts at the time, their heater was damaged, causing a carbon monoxide leak into the home. The couple felt sick on Thursday, Jan. 6 – dealing with dizziness, nausea and headaches, spending most of the day in bed as a result. Verna said at the time, they chalked the symptoms up to the flu or food poisoning; it didn’t seem to be COVID-19 based on the symptoms.
“We both got up not feeling too bad, had a cup of coffee and went back to bed,” Verna recalled. “Then we both seemed to be getting worse.”
The next morning, they called their neighbour, Chelsey Fulford, to give them a hand while they recovered. The power went out due to the winter weather, so Fulford brought over a lantern, a battery to charge their phones and some food for the Platts.
“I had been texting my mom and mentioned to her about them and how sick they were.” Fulford recalled on a public Facebook post she shared a few days later. “She mentioned maybe checking to make sure no gas appliance vents were covered up on the outside of their house from the ice storm. Because that could cause carbon monoxide poisoning.”
Just to be safe, Fulford gave the couple a carbon monoxide detector.
“I was sure they were just sick and it had nothing to do with (carbon monoxide),” Fulford said.
Shortly after Fulford left, the detector went off.
“I heard this voice and thought (Fulford) was still talking, and it sort of dawned on me that the detector was going off,” Verna said. “I sent her a text and she immediately came back.”
At first they thought the detector was faulty as it had gone off before, but they called the Agassiz Fire Department.
We opened the doors just in case and while I waited for the fire department, I went and profusely apologized to my neighbours, who I could tell were just feeling horrendously awful,” Fulford said. “I told them I was so sorry, but because the alarm was going off I had to call the fire department to double-check it and make sure it was nothing. I couldn’t just ignore it.”
Firefighters told them to leave the house immediately.
“At first I thought they were being a bit dramatic, and that maybe they just didn’t want us inside while they were testing,” Fulford recalled. “I told them they were really sick and in bed and might not be able to. One of the firefighters told me there was a high amount of carbon monoxide and they needed to get out.”
The AFD detected 185 ppm of carbon dioxide in the house. Fulford said levels between 150 and 200 were considered extremely high, enough to cause unconsciousness or death.
They escorted Verna, Doug, their three dogs and their cat out of the housing, giving the couple oxygen and sending them to Chilliwack General Hospital for further treatment.
Verna said the couple was hospitalized for about five hours as oxygen re-entered their system. Ron Clare, who runs Agassiz-based Ron’s Heating, found a crack in the heat exchanger in the home’s furnace, which resulted in the carbon monoxide leak. The leak would have continued had the power stayed on that Friday morning.
“There were a couple of things that really saved our lives – Chelsey and her mother, and that the power was out,” Verna said. “The furnace could’ve kept on running all day long. And if we hadn’t broken down and asked Chelsey for help, we could’ve stayed, made do and probably perished.”
Fulford stressed that carbon monoxide detectors save lives and everyone who does not yet have one should get one.
“I can’t believe I was in their house, and did not have a single clue,” Fulford said. “They say carbon monoxide is a silent killer, they aren’t kidding. You have zero clue.”
“It was the quick thinking and actions of their neighbour that may have saved their lives,” said Agassiz Fire Chief Gerald Basten.
Verna said she and Doug are feeling fine now. Shockingly, the pets have a clean bill of health, too.
“The Fire Department was great, the ambulance was great, all terrific; even the people at Chilliwack General hospital were great,” Verna said. “We didn’t have to wait; they took care of us.”
“We have angels among us,” she added. “We are so blessed to be living in Agassiz and having very caring neighbours.”