Pa. Bar, Apartments Condemned For Code Violations

March 25, 2013
High carbon monoxide levels, electrical problems, a faulty coal-fired heating system and no working smoke detectors were among the factors that lead to the condemnation of a Hazelton apartment/bar complex.

March 25--High levels of carbon monoxide and a malfunctioning heating system forced Hazleton city to condemn an apartment building that is also home to a bar and restaurant Sunday morning.

Rich Wech, city code enforcement officer, said he spotted other code violations while in Coal Crackers and apartments in the building, including electrical problems and no working smoke detectors.

According to an online property database, the bar and restaurant at 561-565 Alter St. is owned by Carol J. Sheman, who also lives in the building.

The problems inside the building at Third and Alter streets were discovered after Hazleton firefighters received a call from one of the tenants Saturday night asking what the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are.

Based on that call, Deputy Fire Chief Brian Mandak said firefighters went to the home around 9:55 p.m. for the possibility of a carbon monoxide problem and found a malfunctioning coal furnace and an odor of sulfur at the front door. Mandak said with the front door wide open, ventilating some of the CO outside, firefighters found 26 parts per million of CO.

They also found 48 ppm at the top of the basement steps and over 110 ppm in the basement, where 25 ppm is what OSHA states is the "time weighed average" for an eight hour day, Mandak said.

He suspected higher levels would have been found inside the building if it didn't have a lot of drafts caused by lack of maintenance to things like broken window panes.

Firefighters vented the building and shut down the furnace.

In addition to the malfunctioning boiler, he said, the basement was cluttered with ashes and combustible items posing a fire and health hazard.

Mandak said it was the second time the fire department was called to the home for safety issues in March. In the previous incident, ashes were heaped in a pile almost as tall as the boiler and in multiple boxes, he said. Multiple code violations were also found, such as water leaking through the ceiling and outside the building, abandoned vehicles and jugs of cooking oil, including a 55 gallon drum, were found in a yard.

Repairs from a fire four years ago were never completed, Mandak said. He said that fire began when people setting off fireworks from a second floor balcony caught the roof on fire.

Hazleton Police Chief Frank DeAndrea said tenants had until 7 p.m. Sunday to get their belongings and leave the building as it is now uninhabitable.

He said this is part of the city's crackdown on buildings that are unfit to live in.

"If I have to shut down all of these buildings, that's what I'll do," he said. "Why should you have to live like that?"

He also encouraged residents to call the city about any code, health or safety concerns they have about buildings in town.

Mandak said four people were living in Coal Crackers at the time and one of them, a woman, was taken to Hazleton General Hospital by Tech Transport. He said it's unknown if the woman had CO poisoning but she was treated and released from the hospital. A second person, a man, complained of feeling light headed and dizzy but refused treatment by Valley Regional Ambulance, he said.

It was the second time Saturday Hazleton firefighters responded to a CO call. At about 9:12 p.m., responders were called to a church social hall at 841 W. Diamond Ave., for a smell of gas in the building and found the odor was coming from a commercial grade kerosene heater, not meant for indoors.

Mandak said the church had no oil in its oil tanks and as such, had no heat. He said firefighters, told the occupants not to use the kerosene heater inside and took the kerosene heater out of the building. He said a small amount of CO, about 6-8 ppm, was found inside and code was notified of the call because using the kerosene heater inside was in violation of fire code.

Mandak said CO affects people differently. Some, he said, feel ill earlier than others when exposed to the gas over a certain period of time. He said if someone has underlying health issues they will likely feel ill first.

Both cases, he said, should make residents more aware of the dangers of CO in an effort to prevent it. CO, he said, is a natural element found in the atmosphere caused by the burning of carbon based fuels, such as wood or coal. He said CO is safe if it dissipates through air enough.

[email protected]

Copyright 2013 - Standard-Speaker, Hazleton, Pa.

Voice Your Opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of Firehouse, create an account today!