Gananoque Fire Department hosts expert panel to teach residents about CO safety

Carbon monoxide safety advocate John Gignac of The Hawkins-Gignac Foundation for CO Education joined First Alert in presenting a donation of 45 CO alarms to Fire Chief Gord Howard to be given to area homes in need to help ensure the safety of all residents. supplied by Conrad Galambos

(Gananoque – March 19, 2021)

In December 2008, John Gignac learned more about carbon monoxide (CO) than he had ever wanted to know. His niece OPP Safety Officer Laurie Hawkins, her husband Richard and their two children Cassandra and Jordan all succumbed to CO poisoning when a malfunctioning exhaust system on their gas fireplace flooded their home with the lethal gas and killed them as they slept. They did not have a CO alarm, and never knew what happened.

Now Canada’s leading CO safety advocate, Gignac joined Stu Seaton (Investigator for the Technical Standards and Safety Authority (TSSA)), Bonnie Rose (TSSA President and CEO), and John Ward (alarm technology expert from First Alert) to participate with Gananoque Fire Chief Gord Howard and other Gananoque firefighters on March 16 in a virtual event to warn area residents about the dangers of “The Silent Killer”.

“Keeping your family safe is a shared responsibility,” said Fire Chief Howard. “We are here to respond to emergencies, but it’s a homeowner’s job to make sure they have working carbon monoxide and smoke alarms in their home. Without them, you are putting your family at risk.”

After Gignac lost his family members, he created The Hawkins-Gignac Foundation for CO Education. The organization works as advocates for mandatory CO alarm laws while warning all Canadians about CO, a lethal gas that is impossible for humans to see, smell or taste.

“(The March 16 session was) hosted as part of an eastern Ontario public education blitz organized by TSSA, the province’s public safety regulator for fuels safety, (revealing) that more than 65 per cent of all carbon monoxide deaths and injuries occur in homes,” said Gignac. “In 2014, the Ontario government made it law that every home with a potential source of carbon monoxide, or an attached garage, must have at least one working CO alarm. That law – The Hawkins-Gignac Act – passed with unanimous all-party support in honor of the Hawkins and Gignac families.”

“Keeping your family safe is a shared responsibility,” said Fire Chief Howard. “We are here to respond to emergencies, but it’s a homeowner’s job to make sure they have working carbon monoxide and smoke alarms in their home. Without them, you are putting your family at risk.”

Many people are underinformed about potential sources of CO in their homes. Although they probably have smoke alarms, they don’t always think about CO alarms and making sure that they, too, are working properly.

“When most people think about the threat of carbon monoxide, they tend to focus on their furnace,” said Seaton. “Yet the average home could have four or more fuel-burning appliances that produce carbon monoxide. Gas and wood fireplaces, gas water heaters and stoves as well as portable gas generators and barbecues are common sources. If these devices are not inspected and maintained, small deficiencies or leaks can have disastrous consequences.”

Improperly maintained equipment can cause permanent disasters. Having fuel-burning equipment checked and maintained on an annual basis helps reduce the chance of a CO problem.

“Our goal is to help prevent incidents before they happen,” said Rose. “Partnering in communities with local safety experts such as Fire Chief Howard, helps get the message out. We all share the same goal – to keep Ontarians safe.” 

Other tips provided by the panel included:

  • Carbon monoxide weighs about the same as air, so CO alarms can be plugged down low into an electrical socket, or installed on the ceiling, as part of a combination smoke and carbon monoxide alarm
  • The best location to install CO alarms is outside sleeping areas, not in furnace rooms
  • Treat every alarm as an emergency; never presume a ringing alarm is a false alarm
  • Purchase certified alarms from reputable retailers

Chief Howard accepted a donation of 45 CO alarms provided by First Alert. These alarms will be given to area homes in need to help ensure the safety of all residents. The detectors tend to run from about $30 apiece and up, and can be either battery operated or plug in.

“We are extremely grateful to First Alert for the alarm donation, as it helps provide peace-of-mind to families who might not otherwise be in a position to purchase an alarm themselves, especially in light of COVID-19,” said Chief Howard. 

For more information go to www.endthesilence.ca and www.cosafety.ca .

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