It was 3:15 in the morning when Pam woke me up questioning a beeping sound.
We happened to be in a rental house on vacation in Vermont for a ski trip. Therefore, it was much more of an unknown than if we were at home. A major storm had also passed through the day before, dropping more than four feet of snow. I followed the beep to the bottom floor where a combination smoke detector and carbon monoxide alarm was sounding. The bottom floor in this house featured a game room and hot tub along with a garage area where the heating and air conditioning units were located.
After some cursory investigating by my non-mechanical self, like hitting the reset button, we ultimately decided to call 911 because we were concerned carbon monoxide was filling the house. We figured it was better safe than sorry in the unfamiliar home and the storm conditions outside. The 911 operator’s advice was to vacate the house immediately and keep all windows and doors closed until the West Dover Fire Department arrived to allow for accurate air condition readings.
For the most part, considering the time of night, Beckett, 14, and Carson, 13, handled the emergency well. Beckett initially asked to stay in bed until the firefighters arrived. I admitted to him my concern and the seriousness of the situation. He eventually accepted the situation’s gravity. As I worked to motivate Beckett, Pam said Carson immediately jumped out of bed confused but got his stuff together quickly, following her instructions.
Due to the ongoing severe weather conditions, it took the first responders about 90 minutes to arrive. We would learn later the roads were horrible and along the way to our place the fire truck needed to help a plow in need of assistance. At one point, during the long wait and amid questions from the kids about wireless internet access in the truck, Pam surmised whether the situation might have had something to do with the plow truck coming to our house while we were asleep.
The guess turned out to be accurate as the huge mounds of snow piled up near the house had apparently overflowed against the house, blocking a furnace vent along the foundation. Despite the snow and cold conditions, it was inspiring to watch the firefighters attempt to diagnose the issue.
When they arrived, I walked two firefighters – who apologized for their delay — into the house to show them around the house. One firefighter quickly stopped us, referring to his reader alerting him of high levels of carbon monoxide. Another firefighter informed me the protocol subsequently changed – they needed to retrieve their oxygen tanks.
From that point on, I stayed outside and listened to the firefighters communicate on their radios. While the carbon monoxide level was high on the first floor, once the firefighters were on the bottom floor the readings went above 260 ppm (35 ppm sets off an alarm). It was clear the source was on this floor as the second and third floor detectors had not yet sounded.
The firefighters were looking to determine where the furnace vent entered the house. A series of knocking from inside the home then took place with the firefighters on the outside communicating via radio. One firefighter then said, “found it, I got it, just need a shovel.” I tossed a couple shovels to them from the house.
A few minutes later, we heard a loud burp come from the vent followed by an overwhelming odor of gas. Once the snow was cleared, the firefighters inside then went about ventilating the house and getting some fresh air inside. The readings immediately began to decline, and we were soon back inside. Altogether, the ordeal lasted about three hours. We were rattled but relieved.
Beckett went back to sleep for a couple hours until it was time to ski. Carson bemoaned the lack of internet due to a downed antenna from the storm for a couple hours until it was time to leave the house. Pam and I reflected on what could have been.
Though this vacation will forever be remembered for this incident, the vacation was memorable in other ways.
We were initially scheduled to head to Vermont in mid-February but had to postpone our plans by a month. We were a bit worried about the snow still being around that late in the winter. Those thoughts seemed silly while the four feet of snow fell, resulting in a great week of skiing for all of us.
A daily highlight was able to ski trails with Beckett and Pam during our days away. These are lifetime memories to me. For his part, Carson took part in the Adaptive Mountain Sports program, which matches volunteers and/or staff with special needs individuals. It’s essentially a modified ski school for people with disabilities, some of whom are in a wheelchair and others, like Carson, have neurological differences requiring special treatment.
On the second to the last day of the trip, the adaptive program volunteers were comfortable enough to take Carson to the summit and have him ski down with assistance. Pam, Beckett and I timed it so we could ski past Carson without him knowing. We were then able to watch from the side of the mountain as he skied down with his assistants. It took him a while as he is cautious, but it warmed the heart to see him doing something he had never done before. It was special to be able to observe his incredible achievement. He only did it once, but he did it.