Law requires carbon monoxide detectors

by Beacon Staff • April 5, 2006

Gregoire soon discovered that the sound was coming from the carbon monoxide detector his roommate's mother had installed when he moved into the apartment that fall.,One morning last February, at 5:30 a.m., Northeastern University student Jason Gregoire was asleep in his Allston apartment. Minutes later, a loud noise awoke him.

Gregoire soon discovered that the sound was coming from the carbon monoxide detector his roommate's mother had installed when he moved into the apartment that fall. Carbon monoxide (CO) had entered the basement apartment through a leak in Gregoire's bedroom wall.

"The CO detector definitely saved our lives, because the doctors said if I would have slept another two hours I most likely would not have woken up," Gregoire said.

A situation similar to Gregoire's prompted legislators to pass Nicole's Law on March 31, which requires Massachusetts residents to install carbon monoxide detectors in buildings that are heated by fossil fuels, like oil, gas and coal, or contain enclosed parking such as garages. Nicole's Law is named after 7-year-old Plymouth resident Nicole Garofalo, who died from the effects of carbon monoxide poisoning when a heating vent in her home was blocked by a snow drift during a blizzard in January 2005.

According to the Massachusetts Department of Fire Services, "carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless, poisonous gas that results from incomplete burning of fuels such as natural gas, propane, oil, wood, coal and gasoline."

Carbon monoxide poisoning often mimics symptoms of the flu. Signs of poisoning include headache, fatigue, dizziness, nausea and shortness of breath.

State senators and members of the Boston Fire Department spoke about Nicole's Law at a press conference on March 23 at the Statehouse.

Sen. Therese Murray, a supporter of Nicole's Law, explained the need for carbon monoxide detectors in all homes and buildings.

"Our hope is that this campaign will make the public more aware of the law and keep people safe," Murray said.

Last week, hardware stores such as Economy True Value on Beacon St. in Brookline were completely sold out of carbon monoxide detectors. True Value employee Charles Monnier said that the company's two other stores, located in Allston and Fenway, were waiting on carbon monoxide detector shipments.

"Once [legislators] came out with the law, maybe a day went by before people came in droves," Monnier said.

Kathy Connelly, owner of Connelly Hardware in Brookline, said she took down phone numbers of 20 customers looking for battery-operated carbon monoxide detectors. Connelly said the store had sold out of battery-operated carbon monoxide detectors five times within the past two weeks.

Residents must install battery powered and plug-in units with back-up battery supply that the Board of Fire Prevention Regulations has approved. The average for battery-powered carbon monoxide detector prices range from $20-$50.

Nicole's Law will require landlords to install carbon monoxide detectors before selling property or renting a residence. Firefighters must inspect all buildings before property sales and owners must obtain a certificate from the fire department.

CO alarms must be installed on every level of the building and must be within at least 10 feet from every bedroom, according to the Massachusetts Department of Fire Services.

Junior entertainment marketing communication major Keri Angus, who lives off campus in the South End, said she is currently waiting for her property manager to install a carbon monoxide detector in her apartment.

"I think it's going to be hard enforcing the law with so many college students," Angus said. "They are constantly moving and [don't have] a permanent residence in apartments. It will be hard for Boston to track."

Sophomore writing, literature and publishing major Brendan McCarthy said the detectors are important because it is much easier to escape a fire than carbon monoxide poisoning.

"That's what's scary about [carbon monoxide]-you don't smell it or feel it," McCarthy said. "Why not just have [the detector] in your house?"

Gregoire has not forgotten his close call with carbon monoxide poisoning last year and has since told his friends and family to install CO detectors in their homes.

"I think that Nicole's law is essential 21st century legislation for a city like Massachusetts that has such a large area to cover and inspect," Gregoire said. "Every state should pass similar laws to protect their citizens from a very preventable form of injury or death. What happened to the Plymouth girl hits home, because it could have easily been me."