Police & Fire

Noxious CO Fumes at Summit Residence Send Occupants, First Responders to Hospital

The Summit Volunteer First Aid Squad, which was responding to another call, was assisted by the counterparts from the Millburn-Short Hills First Aid Squad. Credits: SVFAS

SUMMIT, NJ - Five persons -- two residents, an Atlantic Health paramedic, and two Summit Police officers -- were transported to Overlook Medical Center as a result of a 9-1-1 call from a Summit residence May 19 at 3 a.m. The medical emergency from a Summit resident in her home, the address of which has not been disclosed, centered on the woman complaining of heart palpitations.

Not long after Emergency Medical Services arrived on the scene, the woman’s husband also became ill followed by the paramedic. Members of the Summit Fire Department discovered high levels of carbon monoxide (CO) in the home. Both residents and the paramedic, as well as two Summit Police officers -- all of whom exhibited symptoms of CO poisoning -- were treated at the scene and transported by ambulance to Overlook Medical Center.

Summit EMS was tied up on another emergency at the time of the initial call and requested assistance from the Millburn-Short Hills Volunteer Fist Aid Squad. After a third patient was discovered, an ambulance crew from the Springfield Volunteer First Aid Squad was also requested. Both mutual aid crews transported patients. The Summit First Aid Squad crew remained on scene until the Fire Department had cleared the house of dangerous gases.

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Carbon Monoxide gas is colorless and odorless and very difficult to detect without specific equipment. Carbon Monoxide poisoning is a life threatening emergency and it is not uncommon for affected people to die in their sleep.  “Given the hour, both residents are very lucky," said Summit First Aid Squad spokesman John Staunton. “In addition to a smoke or fire alarm, every home should have at least one CO detector.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website, CO is found in fumes produced any time you burn fuel in cars or trucks, small engines, stoves, lanterns, grills, fireplaces, gas ranges, or furnaces. CO can build up indoors and poison people and animals who breathe it. Infants, the elderly, people with chronic heart disease, anemia, or breathing problems are more likely to get sick from CO. Each year, more than 400 Americans die from unintentional CO poisoning not linked to fires, more than 20,000 visit the emergency room, and more than 4,000 are hospitalized.

As noted at cdc.gov, the most common symptoms of CO poisoning are headache, dizziness, weakness, upset stomach, vomiting, chest pain, and confusion. CO symptoms are often described as “flu-like.” Those who breathe in a lot of CO can pass out and die. People who are sleeping or drunk can die from CO poisoning before they have symptoms.

First Aid Squad Chief Kari Phair acknowledged, and was grateful for, the prompt response from neighboring EMS agencies. “Summit provides EMS mutual aid assistance to our neighboring communities about 250 times a year and we sometimes need them to return the favor,” said Phair.

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