Family, West Stanly firefighters reunite after carbon monoxide leak

Published 3:38 pm Thursday, December 28, 2023

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

Late in the afternoon of Dec. 17, a passing storm caused a power outage at and around the Oakboro home of Curtis and Anita Barbee.

“With the power out, we didn’t have heat or water,” said Curtis, “so we turned on our gas logs to get some heat.”
Curtis’ 92-year-old mother, Virginia, was in the same predicament at her nearby house, so Curtis soon had her to join him and Anita at their home to stay warm.

As the power outage stretched into the late hours of the evening, the three decided to turn in for the night, Curtis and Anita in their bedroom, and Virginia on a sofa in the living room.
Curtis, who said the couple’s house was built in 1979, had installed a CPI security system in 2013. In 2018, he upgraded the system to include fire and carbon monoxide monitoring in addition to break-in protection.

On that Sunday evening, his decision to do so most likely saved his life, as well as that of his wife and mother.

At some point during the evening, the Barbees’ gas fireplace logs, a common accessory in many homes, malfunctioned, leaking deadly carbon monoxide (CO) fumes into the house.

“The colorless and odorless fumes triggered the CO detector in the home security system,” said CPI Media Relations Manager Kristi O’Connor, “and CPI Security Central Station Operator Kaysen Malcolm received the alarm. Malcolm dispatched the West Stanly Fire Department to the home.”

The responses to the alarm, both by Malcolm and by the West Stanly Fire Department, were keys to keeping the Barbee family safe.

“Usually, a CO detector will reset if it is a false reading,” Malcolm said, “but this one wouldn’t reset, so I reached out to the home.”
But, with no power, the home land line phone wasn’t working either, so Malcolm called Curtis on his cellphone.

“For some reason, the (cell)phone didn’t go off, and the voicemail didn’t work,” Curtis said, “but then the CO detector started sounding, and after that our daughter, who was our backup contact, called us and told us she had been called by CPI.”

Meanwhile, Malcolm had dispatched WSFD to the home, where firefighters Josh Cook, Christopher Hinson and Matthew Rayburn arrived to find the three Barbees safely outside.

“We checked the CO level in the house, and it was very high,” said Rayburn, who added that the firefighting team isolated the source, cut off the gas to the logs, then opened the structure’s windows and ventilated it.

“We had a zero reading before we left,” he added.

The Barbees were introduced to Malcolm and to WSFD Deputy Chief Jason Almond, and reunited with the three responding firefighters at a press conference at the West Stanly Fire Department on Dec. 28, during which CPI presented a $1,000 check to the department

“We are very thankful to everyone for all they did,” said Anita.

“We are definitely blessed,” added Curtis.

Almond delivered a message on behalf of WSFD on the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning.

“This winter, the West Stanly Fire Department wants to remind you of the dangers of carbon monoxide, which is the No. 1 cause of poisoning deaths in the United States, killing more than 3,800 individuals annually,” he said. “CO cannot be seen, tasted or smelled, and can kill you before you know it’s there.”

“Common causes of CO poisoning are malfunctioning appliances and furnaces, stoves, ovens, water heaters, grills and motor vehicles,” he continued. “Symptoms of CO poisoning include flu-like symptoms such as headaches, nausea, fatigue, dizziness, confusion and breathing difficulties.”

Almond also noted that best practices to protect against such poisoning include having appliances which could emit CO checked annually, as well as installing detection devices.

“You should have a UL approved, battery operated CO detector on each level of your home,” he said. “Batteries should be checked monthly, and replaced each time the clocks are changed (for daylight saving time), and, if the detector goes off, move outside and call 911 immediately.”

When asked his thoughts on having added the CO and fire detection upgrade to his security system, Curtis remarked, “It’s better than a lot of other things I’ve bought…it worked.”