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Orange County Officials Seek To Educate On Carbon Monoxide Detection

WAMC, Allison Dunne

Following three carbon monoxide deaths in Newburgh in March, county and city officials recently gathered to talk about preventing such a tragedy from happening again. They visited some of the city’s residences to encourage the use of carbon monoxide detectors.

Lander Street in the City of Newburgh is where officials say three residents died from carbon monoxide poisoning in a building with a clogged chimney and no detectors. Michael Vatter is Newburgh Fire Chief.

“I want to use this incident at Lander Street, as unfortunate as it is, as a learning tool and a place to start to go forward on their behalf, that they didn’t die for no reason.”

Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus says education is key. Newburgh Mayor Judy Kennedy agrees.

“It’s education on every homeowner, on every renter. Everyone needs to understand the criticalness of having these things in operation,” says Kennedy. “Mine started beeping just last week, of all things. So I took it down, I got the batteries, I put the battery in it, and it still kept beeping. What’s wrong with this thing?”

Vatter said what’s wrong is that she probably needs a new detector. Neuhaus admitted he has one detector sitting in a bookcase.

Credit WAMC, Allison Dunne
Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus and Newburgh Mayor Judy Kennedy

Orlando Torres says there have been a higher number of calls from residents to have their homes inspected following the carbon monoxide deaths. Torres is a community health outreach worker with the county Department of Health’s Healthy Neighborhoods Program, which provides door-to-door outreach in high-risk neighborhoods to identify and address potential lead poisoning and other health problems. The program also helps with obtaining and installing detectors for those who cannot afford them.

Torres explains to the Johnston Street resident that the bucket he is handing out contains cleaning items, paper towels, and roach traps. Kennedy and others accompanied Torres. So did Neuhaus.

“I think it’s important for me as a person that’s implementing policy to be here,” says Neuhaus. “We had a family welcome us into their home and show us how simple it was for our health department, for our Office of Real Property, for any different thing that the county has and the city has, to see how we can help these folks out,” says Neuhaus. “They had a lead paint issue. They said, ‘we can’t afford to do the lead paint.’ Well, we have a lead paint program.”

Credit WAMC, Allison Dunne

He says the family had a CO detector in the basement, but not the top floor, so county officials left them with another detector. They also visited residences on Lander Street, the same street where officials say the three residents died from carbon monoxide poisoning. Vatter says he is eyeing a Federal Emergency Management Agency fire prevention and safety grant.

“We can get more detectors to give away and install and we can create that training program that is so critical,” says Vatter.

He says he would need $250,000 to $500,000 at least. Vatter says that at $20 apiece, 10,000 smoke detectors is $200,000. Vatter also addressed the fear factor of residents in rental units who do not want to report any violations and end up with nowhere to live because the residence is deemed unsafe. Colin Jarvis is executive director of Newburgh Ministry and underscores the issue.

“For folks who really are living in some really compromising situation it’s a matter of, well, do I report these violations and be out on the street or do I kind of tough it out and live with that, as opposed to being out on the street and not being sure where one will end up. And that’s the crux of the matter. These are the folks who are not going to really report violations and the whole nine yards,” says Jarvis. “The bigger issue is an issue of affordability.”

The county’s Community Health Outreach program in 2014 gave out 323 smoke detectors and 174 CO detectors for Newburgh, Middletown and Port Jervis combined. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say from 1999-2010, there were 5,149 deaths from carbon monoxide poisoning in the U.S., about 430 a year.

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