“We were incredibly lucky,” Greg Wilde said, as he sat back in his chair and let out a deep breath.
Lucky, that is, that an episode earlier this month didn’t prove fatal for him and his wife.
As carbon monoxide poured into their Shorewood home in the 3500 block of North Shepard Avenue early in the morning on Feb. 4, the couple slept soundly in their bed.
The level of carbon monoxide was much higher than what North Shore Fire Department officials say would typically take a human life in one hour.
“It was a very sobering experience when the EMTs came in and the firefighters all said, ‘We can’t believe it, you’re so lucky,’” Greg said.
- Read the North Shore Fire Department's blog for tips on ensuring you don't become a victim to carbon monoxide
Around 4 that morning, they say they woke up to an odd smell in the air, and went to their basement, which is where the odor was coming from.
The room was hot and damp, and they figured it was the furnace acting up and put in a call to the manufacturer who agreed to come out at 8 a.m. to take a look at it.
Jean say they then contemplated returning to bed.
“We were toying with the idea of going back to bed,” Jean said. “We figured the boiler is off; the problem is fixed.”
But Greg says he noticed their dog Maggie staggering as she tried to navigate the hallways of the Shorewood home.
And, he had a headache, and Jean felt tired, but it was 4 in the morning after all, she said.
“This is a gas that you really don’t recognize the symptoms,” he said. “And I don’t think we were thinking as straight as we usually would.”
But, Greg says he knew there was something wrong. That’s when they decided to call police, who told them to immediately leave their home.
Fire, police and medical personnel were on scene within minutes, they say.
Authorities say the levels of carbon monoxide were at more than 1,500 parts per million. At 1,000 ppm, one hour of exposure is fatal. Fire officials say carbon monoxide is referred to as the silent killer because it can fill a home without warning; it is an odorless, tasteless gas that is extremely poisonous, and kills more than 200 people per year.
Unsafe levels of carbon monoxide can be produced by malfunctioning or poorly vented fuel-burning appliances such as ranges, water heaters, room heaters and, like in the Wildes' case, furnaces.
A cracked window in the Wildes’ bedroom and the fact that their door was closed may have been the only reason they survived the ordeal.
The Wildes were taken to the hospital and spent the rest of their morning in a hyperbaric oxygen chamber to speed up the exchange of oxygen and carbon monoxide.
Maggie was taken to the emergency veterinary clinic by a neighbor and police officer.
Where was their carbon monoxide detector?
With a security system with all the bells and whistles, including a fire and smoke detector, the Wildes said they figured a carbon monoxide detector was part of the unit.
Jean said she was like a lot of other homeowners in the sense she believed it couldn’t happen to her.
“Our boiler is maintained properly, we have maintenance inspection every year, we weren’t running kerosene heaters in our living room,” Jean said. “I guess I always thought carbon monoxide poisoning always happened when people did dumb things or didn’t maintain things properly, and that’s just not true.”
Before the Wildes went to bed the following night, they said they made sure their new carbon monoxide detector was working.
“I don’t think either one of us could have slept the next night,” Greg said.