After ‘terrifying’ ordeal that hospitalized her family, woman urges people to check carbon monoxide detectors

A Winnipeg mom is urging people to check their carbon monoxide detectors regularly after a gas leak sent her and her family to hospital on Friday.

Melissa Feniuk said she and her kids are usually morning people, so when they all woke up groggy and with headaches that day, something seemed off. But it wasn’t until after she called 911 because her 14-year-old daughter, Alexis, passed out in her bedroom that Feniuk said she realized what was going on.

“[It was] terrifying…. I’m just so thankful that we are alive,” Feniuk said.

“One of the paramedics had said to me that Alexis saved our lives by passing out first, because if we would have been in the house for another 30 minutes or so, we probably all would have died.”

When crews from the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service got to Feniuk’s St. Vital house, portable carbon monoxide alarms attached to their equipment went off, the City of Winnipeg said in a news release. Monitors detected carbon monoxide levels of 80 parts per million in the house, the release said.

Feniuk and her kids were all rushed out of the house and taken to hospital, where they had blood tests done and stayed on oxygen for around six hours. She said she had around 15 per cent carbon monoxide levels in her blood, while doctors said Alexis’s levels were much higher because she has anemia.

Feniuk’s son Nico, 18, (right) and his friend Kia, 20, (left) who lives with them, wear oxygen masks in hospital on Friday. (Submitted by Melissa Feniuk)

Feniuk said the carbon monoxide detectors at her house on Maralbo Avenue East had been malfunctioning lately, warning of low battery levels even after she’d replaced them several times. 

But she knew they had new batteries, so the thought that they wouldn’t warn her about the presence of the odourless, poisonous gas didn’t occur to her.

Carbon monoxide, which is also colourless and tasteless, is produced by the combustion process, the city said in its news release. Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are similar to ones that come with influenza, and include nausea, dizziness, confusion and vision or hearing loss.

Feniuk said she’s already bought replacement carbon monoxide detectors, and had her gas shut off until she gets her old furnace replaced on Monday.

Now, she said she wants to make sure people know how crucial it is to regularly check to make sure their carbon monoxide and smoke detectors are working properly.

“I think a lot of people have them, but maybe aren’t checking them to make sure they’re functioning properly or replacing the batteries often enough or things like that…. It’s super, super important,” she said.

“Please, please — I can’t stress enough — please get your carbon monoxide detectors checked and make sure they’re working properly.”

The city says people are strongly encouraged to install carbon monoxide detectors on every floor of their home and test them regularly. If you suspect there’s been a carbon monoxide leak or if an alarm goes off, you should get out immediately and call 911.

It also outlined steps people can take to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning:

  • Don’t let vehicles idle in a garage attached to a house, even if there’s a door open.
  • Don’t operate gas-powered engines, barbecues or grills that are powered by charcoal or propane, or kerosene stoves in enclosed spaces.
  • Make sure wood stoves are properly installed and vented.
  • Get fuel-burning appliances (like furnaces, wood-burning fireplaces and gas dryers) cleaned and checked every year by a qualified service technician.
  • Make sure all fresh air instake vents, exhaust vents and chimneys are clear of snow, insulation, leaves, bird nests, lint and debris.

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