“Lucky to be Alive”
Those were the words of the North Tahoe Fire Protection District in Lake Tahoe, California, after a family of 13 all fell ill due to carbon monoxide poisoning. The home did not have CO detectors.
The family, which included actress Anna Farris, were vacationing in a home over the Thanksgiving holidays when all 13 members reported feeling ill. Four of the guests were treated at a local hospital for CO nearly six times the maximum recommended indoor carbon monoxide levels. The other nine were treated on site.
Fire Chief Mike Schwartz told the Tahoe Daily Tribune “we are so thankful to report that this holiday disaster was averted. Whether you are at home or traveling, it is important ensure that smoke and CO alarms are in working order anywhere you stay.”
“It’s not a bad idea to consider bringing your own alarm when you travel, just to be safe,” added Chief Schwartz.
Fire officials did not specify how the dangerous level of carbon monoxide built up in the home, but reported testing carbon monoxide levels as high as 55 parts per million.
And that's where this story really gets interesting.
According to the EPA and CDC, a measurement of 55 ppm is more than triple the minimum level considered dangerous, and more than five times the maximum indoor level. But if you look closely at the standards for a UL 2034 rated CO detector, which is the CO detector you will most often find at Home Depot or your local hardware store, the detector will not sound an alarm when concentrations are “only” at 55 ppm. That’s right – the UL 2034 rating actually prohibits the alarm from sounding! Click here to read more about UL 2034 CO detectors.
So, even with a UL 2034 rated CO detector installed, Anna Faris and her family would have still fallen ill from carbon monoxide poisoning. Only with a low-level CO detector would they have averted sickness and risk altogether.
Vacation Rental Almost Turns Deadly from Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
This past January in Donnelly, Idaho, 10 adults and 15 children were hospitalized for carbon monoxide poisoning during a stay at a Vacasa vacation rental home. Firefighters were called to the home where, with the assistance of the local hospital, they determined carbon monoxide levels were above normal. It wasn't immediately clear what caused the high levels of carbon monoxide in the home, however it was suspected to be from the multiple propane-fueled appliances used in the home.
The home did not have CO detectors.
After the first two adults and two children were taken by ambulance to a local hospital, it was determined they had CO poisoning. The other 21 residents were then transported to the hospital for testing. A hospital spokesperson reported four of the patients then needed to be transported to a Boise-area hospital for treatments in hyperbaric chambers designed to remove the carbon monoxide from a patient’s system.
“We averted a horrific tragedy,” said Laura Crawford, a St. Luke’s hospital spokeswoman. “Once we learned we were dealing with possible multiple carbon monoxide poisonings, we immediately activated our mass-causality incident command.”
Erin Holland, public information officer for the North Tahoe Fire Protection District, reported to USA TODAY that short-term vacation rentals "fall into a gray area" when it comes to regulations concerning carbon monoxide and smoke detectors.
When booking a vacation rental home, Holland urges travelers to read reviews and ask about safety features. "If you check into a home, make sure it has smoke alarms; go ahead and test them. Make sure it has CO alarms; go ahead and test them."
And if the home doesn't have those things?
“Alert the property owner and consider not staying there if they can't address safety issues right away”, Holland said. “And consider bringing your own along. We all really have to take responsibility for our own situational awareness and our own safety”, she added.
So how do you prevent a similar scenario during your vacation? Although we entirely agree with the recommendation to ensure your next rental has a CO detector, we are not confident in the recommendation to simply “test them”. As you will learn on this site, ensuring you are protected against low-levels of CO should be equally important. Last, if you’re purchasing a CO detector with the intention of traveling with it, choose a personal (wearable) monitor. Most, if not all, are low-level detectors by design.