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Furnace Fumes Wipe out Family of 10 (Chicago, IL, 1991)
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Jesus and Graciela Orejel and their eight children, ranging in age from 10 to 25, died in their sleep November 8, 1991, from carbon monoxide poisoning. Investigators traced the cause to a 3-inch gap in a furnace flue following repairs by a company not listed in area phone directories, and which was not licensed, bonded or insured.

This stomach-turning incident led Chicago to become the first major city in the country to mandate carbon monoxide detectors for all homes and apartments. The American Medical Association estimates that some 1,500 people a year are killed by CO poisoning, with another 10,000 or more taking ill.

Nobody knows for sure because CO is tasteless, colorless and odorless. The main symptoms of CO poisoning - fatigue, headaches, dizzy spells and nausea - resemble those of flu and many other common illnesses. Thus CO poisoning is easily misdiagnosed.

One thing's for sure - you don't want to deal with any home repair firm unless it is licensed, bonded and insured.

2 Die at Motel with 250 Code Violations (Hayward, CA, 1988)

A young couple living in a low-income residential motel died from carbon monoxide poisoning from a collapsed water heater flue in their room. Tenants were evacuated from the other 30 rooms when building inspectors subsequently found an estimated 250 code violations.

Building codes are the backbone of home safety for the American public. Amateur handymen and women may know how to connect things, but frequently they overlook the subtle techniques that will ensure long term stability and safety. Licensed tradespeople learn more than turning wrenches. They are tested on their understanding of code requirements as well.

2 Children Die as Furnace Fumes Fill Home (Capitol Heights, MD, 1991)

Children ages 2 and 6 died and their mother and third child were hospitalized after being overcome by carbon monoxide fumes from a broken gas furnace. Investigators found that the absence of a chimney cap allowed rain to enter the furnace, causing large flakes of rust that loosened and blocked the flow of air in the heat exchanger. In addition, a hole in a return heating duct created a reverse draft that drew the potentially lethal gas into the house rather than venting it outdoors.

Improper venting of household appliances is one of the most common code violations detected by professional service technicians. Vents must be located in appropriate spots in accordance with code, and with an eye toward potential blockages.

Most equipment will "work" okay without proper venting. It's just that once in awhile, someone gets killed.

Pipe Repair Causes Fire that Leaves 10 Homeless (New Britain, CT, 1992)

Ten people had to flee from a roaring blaze in a condo complex traced to a propane torch being used by a resident to repair a broken water pipe. "If this fire had broken out while people were sleeping, we could have had a major disaster," said a deputy fire marshal at the scene. "Fortunately, it happened early enough so everyone had a chance to get out."

Careless handling of the propane torch set fire to a wooden wall partition. Flames traveled vertically through an open shaft into the attic and horizontally into other condominiums.

Many do-it-yourselfers are adept enough at performing the mechanical work at hand. Unfortunately, what they often lack is an alertness to the casual dangers that put construction and repair work among the most hazardous of all occupations. More than 200,000 people visit emergency rooms each year from accidents involving household do-it-yourself repairs, according to the National Safety Council.

Reputable professional contractors put a high priority on safe working practices. Doing so not only protects employees but also lowers the company's insurance premiums.

Gas Explosion Kills Boiler Serviceman (Springfield, IL, 1992)

A natural gas explosion killed a boiler serviceman and forced the evacuation of 350 people from a health clinic. The fatal injury occurred when the 32-year-old serviceman pressed a button to automatically re light a gas boiler during work in the basement.

Explosion at School Injures Girl (Morton Grove, IL, 1993)

A boiler room explosion at a junior high school sent one 13-year-old student to a hospital with head injuries and about 250 others home for the rest of the week. Pupils in the 5th and 6th grade were at lunch when the blast occurred, and witnesses said the room shook and food trays bounced around the cafeteria.

"Ever been in an artillery blast?" said a school custodian who was present in the lunchroom. "That's what it sounded like. The power of the explosion sprung open the lock on the boiler room door."

The National Board of Boiler and Pressure Vessel Inspectors last year tallied 2,490 accidents, 45 injuries and 8 deaths resulting from explosions or other mishaps involving such equipment. As these news stories testify, awesome pressures can build up inside of common heating equipment.

Missile-Like Water Heater Injures Repairman (Glendale, CA, 1992)

An apartment complex maintenance man was working on the repair of a water heater when something went wrong. "The heater blew a large round hole through the roof, lost speed and fell back to the ground," said the local fire chief.

Really Hot Water Heater Goes Through Home Roof (South St. Paul, MN, 1993)

A basement water heater exploded and launched itself like a ballistic missile through a house. The enormous force of the blast shot the 200 pound tank through the floor, ceiling and roof of the house and about 150 feet through the air into a neighbor's yard. "It was absolutely unreal, almost like a bomb had exploded," said the neighbor. The water heater missed her house by about 20 feet.

This water heater was estimated at over 40 years old. It didn't have a pressure-relief valve that opens automatically when pressure builds too high. Relief valves are mandatory for newer models, though frequently overlooked or mis-installed by amateur repairmen.

Numerous explosions are caused not by mechanical problems with a water heater, but by storage of gasoline, paint, aerosols or other materials giving off flammable vapors in the vicinity of a water heater flame. Never store volatile substances in the same basement or storage room where you keep the water heater.

Many household installations and repairs can be performed by the average home owner with little risk beyond minor property damage. This article is not intended to discourage anyone from saving money by tackling minor jobs yourself.

However, PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE be careful when working with anything that involves gas, oil, electricity, water or pressurized equipment. If you have the slightest doubt about your ability, call a professional.

Don't be a headline in tomorrow's paper.



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