Live to tell: Carbon monoxide detector saves Lititz couple

By on January 10, 2018

Jay Mahoney, daughter Olivia, and Jay’’s girlfriend Peggy in their kitchen. Jay and Peggy escaped a gas furnace malfunction which released deadly amounts of carbon monoxide inside their North Broad Street home.

Donna Mahoney brought her son Jay into the world about five decades ago.

Interestingly enough, it was Mrs. Mahoney who probably prevented him from leaving it at 1:30 a.m. last Thursday.

On that fateful morning — prior to the arrival of several gas-masked Lititz Fire Co. firefighters who entered his South Broad Street home — Jay and his girlfriend, Peggy Jagerman, heard a female voice warn of a clear and present danger of overwhelming carbon monoxide.

Ron Oettel, Lititz Fire Chief, and representatives from UGI said lethal levels of CO were above 900-plus ppm (parts per million). The generally accepted level — where adverse effects can begin to occur over several hours — is about 10 ppm.

“There’s no question we would not be here talking about this if we didn’t act last Thursday,” Jay said. “I have to thank my mother for that.”

He pointed out it wasn’t his actual mom’s voice that bellowed “carbon monoxide warning.”

The recorded voice projected from an automated carbon monoxide detector that Mrs. Mahoney recently purchased for her son.

Actually, she purchased one for each of her four children. The multifunctional device detects and vocalizes dangerous levels of fire, smoke and, in this case, carbon monoxide.

“It certainly gives us another reason to love your mom,” Jay said Saturday in his 50-degree kitchen with his bundled up daughter, Olivia, 11. “I’m telling everyone I know to go out and buy a carbon monoxide detector.”

Oettel spoke directly about the CO levels in the Mahoney home, which still has no working furnace.

“It is no exaggeration to say that, without the detector, the outcome of the situation would have undeniably been very different,” he said.

Needless to say, Mrs. Mahoney was pleased her son was able to call 9-1-1 on Thursday.

“My mom was quite emotional and of course very happy we were all OK,” said Jay, an assistant principal at Millmont Elementary School in Reading.

He had an idea of what might be the source of the CO but didn’t realize the severity of the outflow until firefighters came through the front door.

“Two (firefighters) entered the front door and froze when they looked at their carbon monoxide meter,” Jay said.

He and Peggy immediately left the house — Olivia had stayed at her mother’s that night — as emergency workers donned breathing apparatus and special equipment.

“The fireman brought in a big exhaust fan which made our house safe,” Jay said. “I have to give them so much credit. They were very professional; you’d think it was 1:30 in the afternoon not 1:30 in the morning.”

However, the real problem had been the gas furnace, which leaked CO fumes from UGI-supplied gas.

“UGI disconnected the gas to the furnace but kept it connected to the oven so we can cook and heat up the kitchen a bit,” Jay said.

Portable heaters dotted several rooms in the home Saturday as the family waited for a repair crew to to install a new furnace this week.

He was aware the nearly 30-year-old furnace was on its last legs but didn’t realize it was a safety issue.

“I tried to get one more year out of (the furnace),” he said. “What had happened is the furnace collapsed inside itself over the burner. I had no idea that could happen.”

Jay said his neighbors probably have similar heating systems in the heavily residential section along South Broad Street.

“I know I’m repetitive, but I’m telling everyone I see to get a detector including my co-workers, friends and especially neighbors,” he said.

Peggy said waiting is not an option when dealing with a gas furnace.

“I guess the lesson here is to be pro-active when you have a furnace problem,” Peggy said.

CO is produced from incomplete combustion from any material that is a carbon-based fuel.

Natural gas, propane, oil, wood, coal, and other fuels not burned completely or not venting properly can lead to an increase of CO in the air.

“The only way the homeowner will know that CO is present is by having an operational detector in their home,” said Fire Chief Oettel.

Residents who don’t have a detector should get one and those who have them should inspect the devices, he said.

“We receive quite a few CO calls that turn out to be old detectors with bad sensors or batteries that are nearly dead,” Oettel said.

Most CO detectors provide labeling on the cover that explains the number and frequency of beeps and what it indicates.

“It’s different with every detector but most people, the moment they hear even an occasional chirp from their CO detector, will assume that they have the presence of CO in their home,” Oettel said. “Fortunately, it is our standard operating procedure to approach every one of these calls as though there is a presence of CO.”

Every year an estimated 400 people die from unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning, and more than 4,000 are hospitalized, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The cost of a CO alarm is typically between $20 and $40, according to CDC.

Patrick Burns is a social media editor and staff writer for the Lititz Record Express. He welcomes your questions and comments and can be reached at or at 721-4455.

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