1. #1
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    Default legal question on CO call

    I recent call we had presented a legal question … Original call was for gas smell in the area at 10:00 pm. Upon arrival we found no smell and when talking to 911 caller she states the smell has been coming and going. When walking down driveway I looked back to see column of smoke rising from behind callers house. Went around the house and found split level home with oil smoke coming out of chimney and cellar window open with fan blowing out. Knocked on door and at first did not get a response (saw 3 cars in driveway). Just before breaking down door a female occupant opened the door and we could immediately smell furnace oil and see a little smoke in the home. We asked to enter and check the furnace and see if there are any CO levels. Once downstairs we got an alarm and readings of 80 and climbing. We backed out and told everyone to leave home so we could ventilate down to safe level. A male occupant came out of bedroom and demanded to know why we are in the house and to get out, as he did not call for us to respond. He stated that he was burning out the oil from the furnace and knew all about the smoke condition. We told him that the CO level was at a dangerous level and nobody should be in the house. He threatened to sue us and at that time we called for the police to respond back to scene (as they cleared once we found the house). The homeowner threatened to sue the police also and asked on what authority did we have to enter the house (we told him the female in the house allowed us to enter). We ventilated and told the homeowners to not turn on the furnace until a certified contractor repaired the problem. As we were leaving, everyone started going back inside the house and we are sure nothing was done to repair anything as the male said he does this every time there is a build-up of oil in the furnace.

    As this is a single family home – what are the legal issues that could arise if someone would get hurt or killed after we left? Should we have insisted to get a building official and have the house condemned until the furnace was fixed to be sure nobody entered? Have other departments had similar issues with homeowners and how do you handle it?

    thanks and be safe out there !!!
    Last edited by SMCAPT7; 03-18-2005 at 12:27 PM.
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  2. #2
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    This reminds me of a request I have brought up before.... we ought to have a fire/structural/property release form along the lines of a refusal of ambulance transport release for EMS.

    On the release it would state the boundaries of the hazard area and the reason the FD recommends it be vacated. Then a homeowner or resident who chooses to not follow our advice cannot sue claiming he was not informed of the hazards. This would go for all hazard areas as the result of haz mat incidents, CO/smoke, flood/fire/earthquake structural damage, etc.

    While this kind of a form could protect us in certain situations, it also creates some definitions which could be used against us in court. We all know the importance of documentation, but there sure are times where we are intentionally vague for a good reason. And a bad side of this is that a lack of a form might be construed as an all-clear. What a mess.

    In your case though it sounds like the guy guy probably wouldn't sign it.

    I think as long as law enforcement was there to back you up and the officers had call reports in agreement with yours, you're pretty safe. What else can you do, have them arrested? Lock the property? You had consent to enter, but after that you can't do more than inform them of the dangers and suggest proper corrective action. Protecting them by force (arrest/lockdown) would violate their consitutional right to be stupid.

    There, my response did not do much to help, did it? Sorry.

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    I would say that since someone in the house let you in, you dont have a problem. As far as what happened next, I would have called out the building official and have him "red tag" the place as it was a unsafe living condition.
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    At least in CT, when the FD is on scene, we own the place. The homeowner doesn't have a say in the matter. He can scream about suing all he wants. If they refuse to comply with us, they will comply with the police whether they like it or not.
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    For CO alarms we have a two part form that we fill out. It states our findings from various places in the structure (gas stove, hot water heater, fireplace, furnace, etc) It then has a chart of exposure symptoms/consequences based on ranges of PPM levels.

    Occupant at the time signs off on the form, we get the original for the report and they get the carbon for their records.

    It was reviewed by our municipal attorney and approved prior to implementing the practice.

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    This type of deal would fall under code enforcement. The structure is unsafe in it's present condition. In regard to the previous post about a release form, this is our SOG and the text of the forms we complete at all CO calls:

    Response to Carbon Monoxide Detector Activation

    Number: 120

    Effective date: 2/17/03

    Revised:


    Purpose &
    Scope:
    To establish a guideline for action to be taken, or considered, on calls for response to activated carbon monoxide (CO) detectors. This SOG shall pertain to all members of the Hinckley Community Fire Protection District to assist in the safe response and mitigation of CO incidents.

    Vehicle
    Response:
    If residents are not feeling ill, 1804 only shall respond non-emergency. If residents are feeling ill, 1851 and 1804 shall respond emergency. If dispatch does not indicate, respond non-emergency.

    Response &
    Actions:

    A. If residents are not feeling ill:
    1. Enter the structure and take readings per the approved forms.
    2. If at any time the monitor reads over 35 ppm, evacuate the structure; don SCBA and attempt to determine the source.
    3. Check all rooms, especially those with heat-producing appliances.

    B. If residents are feeling ill:
    1. Evacuate the structure.
    2. Firefighters shall don SCBA and enter with a minimum crew of two.
    3. Take readings per the approved forms.
    4. Follow guidelines on form.

    Guidelines:
    If you encounter carbon monoxide readings below 10 ppm, inform the occupants that you did not detect an elevated level of CO at this time. Recommend the occupants they check their CO detector per manufacturer recommendations. Battery powered unit good for < 2 years; all detectors marginal after 4 years.

    If you encounter carbon monoxide readings above 10 ppm but below 35 ppm, recommend that the occupants leave the building at once, determine the source of the CO and shut off the appliance. Once the source of the CO is shut down and the building is ventilated, take additional readings. If safe, the occupants may re-enter. If the source of the CO is from the furnace during heating season, the building should be evacuated by civilians until repairs are complete. If the source cannot be identified, call NICOR for natural gas services and recommend that the occupants not re-enter.

    If you encounter carbon monoxide readings above 35 ppm, inform the occupants that you have detected potentially lethal level of CO, and evacuate the building immediately. All firefighters shall don SCBA during the rest of the investigation. Determine the source of the CO and shut off the appliance. Ventilate the structure and take additional readings. If safe, the occupants may re-enter. If the source of the CO is from the furnace during heating season, the residence should be evacuated by civilians until repairs are complete. If the source cannot be identified, call NICOR for natural gas services. The occupants are not to re-enter. Call Village/County Code Enforcement if necessary.

    Detector Reset.
    It is possible the residents may expect us to reset or fix their detector. This is not in our area of expertise, nor our responsibility. It will be their decision to keep the unit or return the unit for service. Detectors may require clean air for up to 48 hours to reset.

    Record
    Keeping:

    1. Fill out the approved CO forms completely, including resident name, and make and model of detector.
    -------
    Like FFTrainer, we have two forms, one for the resident, and one for NFIRS:

    Question the occupants: Are any members of the household experiencing headache, nausea, shortness of breath, fatigue, dizziness, or confusion? A “yes” response requires evaluation by EMS.

    2. Ask the occupants, what gas fired appliances have been used in the last 12 hours?

    □furnace □water heater □fireplace
    □gas dryer □stove/oven □space heater
    □automobile (attached garage) □gas grill

    3. Visually inspect the vent piping, vent connections, and heat-producing appliances that are operating.

    4. Evaluate the occupancy air quality. Using the WFPD CO monitor, evaluate the area around heat producing appliances and in living spaces. If at any time the unit measures above 35 ppm, evacuate the structure and don SCBA.

    Fire District CO monitor (initial) outside reading: _________ ppm

    Example:
    Area of measurement: Water Heater location basement reading 14 ppm
    Area of measurement:__________________ location________________ reading_______ ppm
    Area of measurement:__________________ location________________ reading_______ ppm
    Area of measurement:__________________ location________________ reading_______ ppm
    Area of measurement:___________________ location________________ reading_______ ppm
    Area of measurement:__________________ location________________ reading_______ ppm
    Area of measurement:__________________ location________________ reading_______ ppm

    If you encounter carbon monoxide readings below 10 ppm, inform the occupants that you did not detect an elevated level of CO at this time. Recommend the occupants they check their CO detector per manufacturer recommendations. Battery powered unit good for < 2 years; all detectors marginal after 4 years. May take up to 48 hours to clear contaminated sensors.

    If you encounter carbon monoxide readings above 10 ppm but below 35 ppm, recommend that the occupants leave the building at once, determine the source of the CO and shut off the appliance. Once the source of the CO is shut down and the building is ventilated, take additional readings. If safe, the occupants may re-enter. If the source of the CO is from the furnace during heating season, the building should be evacuated by civilians until repairs are complete. If the source cannot be identified, call NICOR for natural gas services and recommend that the occupants not re-enter.

    If you encounter carbon monoxide readings above 35 ppm, inform the occupants that you have detected potentially lethal level of CO, and evacuate the building immediately. All firefighters shall don SCBA during the rest of the investigation. Determine the source of the CO and shut off the appliance. Ventilate the structure and take additional readings. If safe, the occupants may re-enter. If the source of the CO is from the furnace during heating season, the residence should be evacuated by civilians until repairs are complete. If the source cannot be identified, call NICOR for natural gas services. The occupants are not to re-enter. Call Village/County Code Enforcement if necessary.

    5. Detector information:
    Location of detector:_____________________

    Brand and model of detector:_____________________

    6. Occupant information:
    Name___________________

    Address________________ Phone________

    “I have been given and understand information regarding a CO detector activation at my property”
    Occupant Signature_______________________________


    Date_____ Company Officer____________________
    attach to Incident Log

    ---------
    occupants get this one:
    ---------
    Carbon Monoxide Detector Activation

    The Wacker Fire Protection District responded to your building at _________________________ on ________________________.

    Many household appliances create CO when a fault or unusual condition exists. Since the source can be transient in nature, the source may not always be identifiable.

    Our findings were:

    Carbon Monoxide at the level of ________ P.P.M. (Parts per million) was detected.

    We recommend as indicated:

    □Less than 10 PPM: Our instrument did not detect elevated levels of CO at this time. Check your CO detector per the manufacturers recommendations. Call the manufacturer for further information (number may be on back of unit). If it activates again, call the Fire Department back. Some units may require up to 48 hours to clear.

    □From 10 PPM to 35 PPM: We have detected potentially dangerous levels of CO. We are recommending you leave the building immediately. It is not safe until repairs are made and a replacement detector/sensor module is installed.

    □Greater than 35 PPM: We have detected a potentially lethal level of CO. Leave the building immediately! It is not safe until repairs are made or the source found and corrected. The building will be posted “Not Suitable for Occupancy” and the building department notified. You must not return until the source has been corrected.


    Carbon Monoxide is an odorless, colorless gas that is deadly. It is a by-product of burning carbon based fuels such as charcoal, natural gas, propane, or gasoline. It can cause symptoms that mimic the flu, including headache, nausea, shortness of breath, fatigue, dizziness and confusion.

    Carbon monoxide effects individuals differently depending on the size and medical history of the individual. Therefore, families with young children or with significant medical conditions should take extra precautions in the event CO was detected. The Wacker Fire Protection District assumes no responsibility or liability for investigation of an activated carbon monoxide detector or suspected presence of CO.

    Background information:
    1. Thirty-five (35) ppm is the OSHA limit for 8-hour exposure to CO.
    2. Most home detectors are designed to activate at 100 ppm.
    3. Breathing air with 200 ppm CO will produce headache, nausea, mental dullness and dizziness in a few hours.
    4. Breathing air with 800 ppm CO will produce the same symptoms in less than an hour, and unconsciousness in 1½ hours.
    5. Breathing air with 4,000 ppm CO will result in death in less than one hour.

    Wacker Fire Protection District

    By:_______________

    Date:_____________

    ----------------
    Ultimately, just as people have the right to make bad descions about their health, I'm not sure there's a ton we can do to keep people out of their house when they have been made aware it's unsafe. Can the building department red tag a buidling and the police forcibly remove them? That's a question for the local state's attorney to answer.
    Last edited by jaybird210; 03-18-2005 at 02:34 PM.
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  7. #7
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    Protecting them by force (arrest/lockdown) would violate their consitutional right to be stupid.

    Not neccessarily.

    A male occupant came out of bedroom and demanded to know why we are in the house and to get out, as he did not call for us to respond.

    Sounds confused to me...which is one symptom of CO poisoning...

    Once downstairs we got an alarm and readings of 80 and climbing.

    70ppm is the CSPC guideline for redlining appliances and declaring the situation unsafe. For a great document to base your SOPs around, see http://www.cpsc.gov/LIBRARY/FOIA/FOIA04/os/Resident.pdf

    And state statutes read, in part:

    Sec.7-313e. Authority of fire officer during emergency.
    ...any member serving in the capacity of fire officer-in-charge, shall, when any fire department or company is responding to or operating at a fire, service call, or other emergency
    ...have the authority to: (a) Control and direct emergency activities at such scene; (b) order any person to leave any building or place in the vicinity of such fire for the purpose of protecting such person from injury;
    ...(d) at any time of the day or night, enter any building, including a private dwelling, or upon any premises where a fire is in progress or near the scene of any fire, or where there is reasonable cause to believe a fire is in progress, for the purpose of extinguishing the fire or preventing its spread;


    So,
    We have the right to enter a private dwelling if we think it's on fire, and order the owners out.

    We have Fire / EMT training that's saying we have a mechanism for injury (High CO), and he's acting in a way that opens up doubt whether he's legally competent to refuse treatment.

    It's a tough situation, and I've been in similiar places and you feel caught by well, what could screw me worse...

    At a minimum, we have grounds to create a patient care report. Which is basically the Police telling him he has to cooperate with the EMTs to take his vitals & demonstrate is alert & oriented to time, place, person...or the PD has grounds to put him on a 72 emergency evaluation committal. (I don't remember if Windsor Fire runs EMS calls normally though, so local practice/protocols may come into play -- it may be a "let's call an ambulance to cover our butts" situation...)

    Notifying the Building Inspector probably isn't a bad idea -- at least it bounces the ball out of your court for now.

    WWID:
    -- Evaluate the patients medical state (they don't have a choice in this as until they can prove themselves to be reasonably competent, and we have cause with knowing of elevated CO that there mental capacity may be impaired to make an informed decision).
    -- Eliminate the immediate hazard by ventilation.
    -- If the furnace continues to produce high CO, shut it off and document that you did so. (Hi, Mr. Police officer, could you just come down so I can show you this for your report...) Notify the building inspector, too.
    -- If the furnace is no longer producing high CO, probably no need for the building inspector but advise the homeowner of the dangers of CO.

    If you did end up finding the occupants competent to refuse medical care, they'll probably be angry and you just have to be professional and say, "Sorry you feel that way, I'm just following our protocols and the law." You found a dangerous situation, you made sure everyone was OK, and you mitigated the dangerous situation. The homeowner may be ****ed to high heaven, but he can pound sand all day long since you made very reasoned & defensible decisions. Document the heck out of it back at quarters.

    Might be worthwhile to call the Chief or send him/Fire Marshal/Building Inspector/Police Chief/Town Manager (Depending on how your town works & cooperates!) a quick memo saying, "In case you hear from this guy...we found a hazardous condition, took care of it, he wasn't too happy, everything's fully documented in the fire reports, just a heads up in case he or his lawyer calls!"

    Even if they pursued it and called an attorney, there isn't any attorney whose gonna touch this case for them on spec (% of damage), and when they tell them who many tens of thousands it would cost out-of-their-pocket to litigate for essentially no damage and a case that's nearly impossible to win, the case goes away.
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  8. #8
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    We have the two-part sign off sheet, similar to what was written above.

    Makes it simple, and C'sYA. If they refuse to sign, have the PD sign to that effect.
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    WHERE WE RUN. SOMEONE LET YOU IN TO THE RESIDENTS. THEY LET YOU IN AND THE HOUSE IS UNSAFE ITS YOUR HOUSE TILL MADE SAFE OR YOU TURN IT OVER. CHECK WITH AN ATTORNEY TO FIND OUT WHAT YOUR STATE LAW SAYS.

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    I am under the assumption that in NY, once we arrive on the scene of any emergency, that house/whatever it may be, is under the control of IC.

    So in a situation like this, IC would have a right to enter/evacuate because it is under their control.

    That is what I believe to be true, I could be wrong.

    Plus, this is not CT, so this really does not help.
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    What would you do if the wife DIDN'T let you in?

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    HTer is no problem with really anything, you were let in by a home owner so no big whoop there. In terms of the person throwing you out, I dont know, I am not sure who we would call for buildings to come out in our town. People unfortunantley (sp) have the right to be unreasonable in their own homes.
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