Editorial

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 12/7/2019 (509 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Now that it’s over and it has been confirmed that nobody died or was seriously injured, let’s treat Tuesday’s incident at a west Winnipeg hotel as a teachable moment.

What happened at the Super 8 hotel on Portage Avenue can serve as a cautionary tale about the swift and deadly danger posed by carbon monoxide (CO). On Tuesday morning, dozens of emergency-response units — ambulances, fire trucks and police vehicles — were dispatched to the city’s western edge in response to an alert from a CO detector in the hotel’s boiler room.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS files</p><p>Emergency crews outside the Super 8 hotel on Tuesday.</p>

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS files

Emergency crews outside the Super 8 hotel on Tuesday.

More than 40 people were transported to various hospitals in the city, including 15 who were deemed at the scene to be in critical condition. Fortunately, after being treated, none of the affected individuals had to be admitted for further medical intervention.

According to city officials investigating the incident, CO buildup caused by improper ventilation was responsible for the near-disaster. It remained unclear Thursday which gas-powered appliance or connection was responsible for creating the CO load, but it was recirculated throughout the hotel via the boiler room.

That this situation could have turned out considerably and tragically worse requires no elaboration. Measurements taken at the hotel showed CO levels of up to 385 parts per million, more that 10 times the 20 to 30 ppm that are considered safe. The good news, according to Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service Chief John Lane, is that the structure’s CO detectors did their job, allowing hotel staff and guests to exit the building before crisis turned into calamity.

"This alarm absolutely saved lives," Mr. Lane said.

In the aftermath of the CO scare at the Super 8, a former Ontario firefighter weighed in with the view that Manitoba should make CO detectors mandatory in every home. John Gignac, who lost a niece to CO poisoning and has spent his retirement advocating for mandatory detectors, said the incident should be a wake-up call for this province’s legislators.

Ontario made the devices mandatory in 2015, and poll numbers in that province suggest between 80 and 85 per cent of Ontarians now have CO detectors installed in their homes.

Manitoba has since 2011 required new builds and public buildings — including hotels — to have CO detectors, which must be inspected every three years. Mr. Gignac, who is executive director of the Hawkins-Gignac Foundation for CO Education, said while the close call at the Winnipeg hotel demonstrates that detectors save lives, the incident also underscores the need for broader legislation that mandates CO detector installation in all homes.

"The only way you’ll ever know that carbon monoxide is in your home, your workplace, your hotel... is with CO alarms in place." – John Gignac, executive director of the Hawkins–Gignac Foundation for CO Education

"The only way you’ll ever know that carbon monoxide is in your home, your workplace, your hotel... is with CO alarms in place," he said. "If it’s working well in Ontario, every province should have the same law as Ontario so we can protect all our citizens."

He has a point. Whichever party forms Manitoba’s next government after the Sept. 10 provincial election should look seriously at updating and strengthening this province’s laws regarding CO detectors. The devices are inexpensive (around $40) and easy to install, test and maintain, and as this week’s averted disaster demonstrates, can be the difference between life and a death delivered by a silent, odourless and ruthlessly efficient killer.

Lessons learned from near-disasters should be heeded just as seriously as those born of unnecessary tragedy.