Feb 19, 2014 12:41 AM EST

Three people died and a fourth was taken to a Boston hospital because of a carbon monoxide problem at a Plaistow home, officials said.  Fire officials said they were called to 5 Center Circle about 11:30 a.m. for a well-being check. They found one woman and two men unconscious and unresponsive.

Crews evacuated to get breathing gear and returned to the building. When they searched it again, they found another man still breathing. That person was taken to a Boston hospital, and his condition was not released.   Fire officials said carbon monoxide readings were in excess of 400 parts per million.  An alarm will typically sound at 35 parts per million, but fire officials said the batteries had been removed from the carbon monoxide detector in the home.

Plaistow Fire Chief John McArdle said the source of the carbon monoxide was a propane-fired heater. A vent was disconnected and fumes were going directly into the house.  “It’s tragic when you see they have the detectors in place and they have been disabled,” McArdle said. “It’s frustrating. For the cost of batteries, three lives have been lost.”   McArdle said the deaths could easily have been prevented had there just been a carbon monoxide detector to wake and warn the people inside the house.

Neighbors said the man who owned the home was recently divorced and had roommates living with him. Raymond McKay said he was very particular about how he kept the house.   “Considering the type of person he was, I was pretty surprised (to hear there were no batteries in the carbon monoxide detector),” McKay said.   “It’s right across the street and we knew them,” said Robin Price, a neighbor. “They were quiet people, and it’s just tragic.”

McArdle said he hopes the incident can serve as a reminder to other to make sure they have both working carbon monoxide detectors and smoke detectors. He also suggested getting your heating system professionally checked on a regular basis.

In the winter, it’s also important to be sure all vents are cleared of snow and ice.


Problem:  disconnected propane heater flue