Reames Wooten, 67, of Oxon Hill said there’s nothing worse than seeing someone die of something that could have been prevented.
The Shelby Drive resident lives across the street from where five residents were found dead April 24 from carbon monoxide poisoning that fire investigators said was caused by a rusted furnace pipe — there was no working carbon monoxide detector inside the home, officials said.
“Any death is a tragic loss, but one that could’ve been prevented with $30 to $40 worth of material is extremely tragic,” Wooten said.
For this reason, Prince George’s County Fire Chief Marc Bashoor is conducting research on legislation to require all residences to have working carbon monoxide detectors. He said the county already has carbon monoxide legislation that requires all new dwelling units built after 2008 to have working carbon monoxide detectors, and said the bill would require the detectors in homes built before 2008. Bashoor said he plans to ask County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) to introduce the legislation.
Bashoor said carbon monoxide, known as the “silent killer,” is nearly impossible to find in the air without a working detector.
“With carbon monoxide, you’re not going to see it, you’re not going to smell it. Before you know it, it will take you,” he said.
Bashoor said requiring the detectors would save lives similar to current county legislation for smoke alarms, which requires every residence to have at least one working smoke alarm.
Baker did not say if he was in favor of such legislation, but acknowledged that the issue of carbon monoxide leaks in Prince George’s should be examined.
“Based on the recent tragedy, it has become apparent that we need to investigate the viability of this type of legislation,” he said. “With that in mind, we are currently looking at best practices throughout the country to ensure the legislation, if created, will address the needs of all the residents of Prince George’s County. In the meantime, we have encouraged the fire chief to ensure that each and every Prince Georgian is aware of the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning and the need for every resident to have a detector in their home.”
Wooten, whose home was built in 1954, said he has a smoke alarm in every room of his home along with two carbon monoxide detectors, and said although he agrees detectors should be required in every home, he thinks gas companies should be required to conduct inspections of all new customers’ gas appliances and exhaust systems.
“If Prince George’s County had this law, my neighbors across the street would still be alive,” he wrote in an email to County Councilman Obie Patterson (D-Dist. 8) of Fort Washington.
Patterson said he fully supports Bashoor’s call for legislation and noted he is also looking into legislation that requires gas appliance inspections. He said possible avenues for “protecting lives” would be to require the installation of carbon monoxide detectors prior to purchasing homes and to require owners of rental units to install carbon monoxide detectors.
“This sad occurrence offers a stark reminder to us all that as a community, we must remain vigilant to ensure the overall safety and well-being of our homes and neighbors,” Patterson said in a statement Tuesday.
In 2011, there were 89 carbon monoxide leaks detected in county dwelling units, a slight increase from 78 in 2010 and 81 in 2009 and a decrease from 119 in 2008, said Mark Brady, chief spokesman for the county’s fire/EMS department. In addition, he said there were 1,048 carbon monoxide detector alarms triggered in 2011, compared to 921 in 2010 and 787 in 2009.
“You will notice the number of alarms escalating through the years, and I believe this is due to more homes installing ... alarms and the awareness campaigns conducted by the fire/EMS department about the dangers,” he said.
Some residents think the county should not mandate installations and say the decision to install detectors should be up to the homeowners.
“There’s not supposed to be a law,” said Alejandro Chavez, 67, of Oxon Hill. “If you do want to be safe, you need to buy one, but I don’t want the law to tell me what to do with my life.”
Bashoor said the hesitation for others to support such legislation is the cost of the detectors. He said the cheapest detectors are about $15 but can range up to $100. He said the department does receive carbon monoxide detector donations occasionally and will give out detectors free of charge if requested.
He added on a day-to-day basis the department does not have any detectors to give out. He said because of the price difference between carbon monoxide detectors and smoke alarms, which run from $5 to $8, it is easier for an organization to commit to donating smoke alarms.
“What people may fight is the cost,” he said. “But what is the cost of a life?”