State officials hope legislation will cut carbon-monoxide deaths
If their Milton Township condo had been equipped with a carbon monoxide detector, maybe James Folk and Joan Leith would be united in marriage rather than separated in cemeteries five miles apart.
Maybe if their Darien home had a carbon monoxide detector, Vincent Ayers and his 18-year-old daughter still would be alive.
Instead, all four are dead, the victims of carbon monoxide that investigating authorities said was off the charts in their homes.
A new state law that takes effect Feb. 1 is designed to reduce carbon monoxide deaths.
On that date, all one- and two-family dwellings will be required to have carbon monoxide alarms.
Homes built before Feb. 1 can use battery-powered, stand-alone detectors. Those built on or after Feb. 1 must have alarms that are interconnected and directly wired to the house's electrical service with a backup battery supply.
The alarms must be installed in the basement and on each floor except the attic or garage.
The law applies to dwellings that contain carbon monoxide sources such as garages, heaters, fireplaces, furnaces and appliances or cooking sources using fuels that emit carbon monoxide as a by-product.
Penalties for noncompliance are similar to properties without smoke detectors. For new construction, occupancy permits will not be issued if carbon monoxide alarms are not in place.
In existing homes, penalties likely will be determined by local fire departments that respond to incidents and find that detectors are inoperable or nonexistent.
In Janesville, the citation could be as high as $515.
According to the state, battery or plug-in carbon monoxide alarms typically range in cost from $25 to $50. New construction installation of a hard-wired alarm with battery backup and interconnection ranges from $90 to $110.
The rule changes follow similar requirements for multi-family dwellings.
According to the American Medical Association, carbon monoxide is the leading cause of accidental poisoning in the United States.
"CO alarms have shown their effectiveness in alerting occupants to the presence of this poisonous gas," Wisconsin Department of Commerce Secretary Paul Jadin said.
Ayers and his daughter Banessa were found dead in their Darien home Nov. 4, eight days after Alliant Energy cut power to the property. A gas-powered generator was found inside the home. It was out of gas and not running.
Walworth County Sheriff's Office Capt. Dana Nigbor said toxicology results showed carbon monoxide poisoning as the cause of the Ayers' deaths.
Milton Fire Chief Loren Lippincott's department responded to the scene for the April deaths of Folk and Leith, who were engaged to be married. Their deaths were attributed to carbon monoxide poisoning from a vehicle left running in the basement garage of the couple's condo.
Several other residents in the building's eight condos also were sickened, and Lippincott agrees with Jadin's assessment of the value of carbon monoxide detectors.
"Absolutely, it would have made a difference," Lippincott said. "If not for the victims, at least for the neighbors who would have heard it."
Lippincott said alarms provide a warning that can save precious minutes.
"These kinds of things happen a lot more than people realize," he said. "People only hear about when it's a tragic case such as the one involving this couple.
"A lot of the calls we go on don't end up being carbon monoxide, but I think more and more people are starting to become aware of it. But it's still amazing how many people don't have smoke detectors."