Nikiski family has carbon monoxide scare, fire department installs alarms

As temperatures drop and the heaters kick on in homes across the Kenai Peninsula for longer periods of time, emergency responders warn that the risk of heat sources malfunctioning rises.

One local family learned that lesson a tough way when they ended up with carbon monoxide poisoning last month in their Nikiski home.

Edna Iyatunguk had just relocated to Nikiski from Anchorage with her children and grandson and said she was excited to have found a nice house on Bell Avenue. The family soon learned the house was not perfect, however. Iyatunguk said she found out about a crack in the home’s furnace when a repair man came to fix it on Dec. 16.

The house she was renting also did not have fire or carbon monoxide alarms, she said.

With the furnace fixed, Iyatunguk didn’t think much of the problem from that point on. When she, her two daughters — one 15, the other 9 — and her 6-year-old grandson started exhibiting signs of illness, she said she at first assumed they had come down with some kind of bug.

“We just thought we had the flu, but it was all that carbon monoxide that we were consuming and not knowing,” she said.

Iyatunguk called the Nikiski Fire Department on Dec. 21 and later checked herself and her family into Central Peninsula Hospital, where she said they were diagnosed with carbon monoxide poisoning. The family has since recovered, she said.

Following the incident, members of the Nikiski Fire Department returned to Iyatunguk’s house and installed alarms for her family. Bud Sexton, public information officer for the department, said an increase in house fire or carbon monoxide-related calls is not uncommon during winter months.

“Right now, as cold as it’s been, a lot of people are using alternative ways to heat their homes … so we’re just reminding people to just be cautious about that,” Sexton said.

Keeping small heaters and other heat sources away from flammable objects inside a home is important, Sexton said, as is making sure heat appliances are serviced and in good working condition. The older heaters and furnaces get, the more likely they are to malfunction, he said.

Having working alarms for fire and carbon monoxide is an easy way to help protect homes when something does go wrong, Sexton said. Alarms can be found at most hardware stores and online, and homeowners can also buy combination alarms that monitor for both fire and carbon monoxide. Sexton said he understands some people worry about the cost but that the alarms are relatively inexpensive.

“The price of a life … you can’t put a figure on that,” he said.

Alarm batteries should be changed twice a year, and alarms should be installed in each bedroom and on each level of a house, Sexton said. Alarms should be replaced altogether every 10 years.

For those unsure of how to install an alarm, or for those who would prefer an expert’s eye, Sexton said the fire department can sometimes go out to homes to help with installation.

Sexton said being more mindful during the winter can help prevent house fires or issues with carbon monoxide.

“This is the time to, you know, to check in with your neighbor,” he said.

Reach Megan Pacer at megan.pacer@peninsulaclarion.com.

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