A few years back, I was Christmas shopping for my sister and parents. Since they’re hard to shop for, I decided to buy a decidedly unglamorous present. I bought them each a carbon monoxide detector (I think I also bought them smoke alarms too – this was before Ontario law required every house to have a smoke alarm on each floor.) I’d forgotten completely about it until my sister happened to mention it earlier this year.

That conversation came to mind the other day when I was reading a news report from south-western Ontario that a police constable had been found in her house unconscious, her family – husband and two children – dead. With my writer’s imagination, I automatically figured either it was a murder-suicide that we hear so much about these days, or some form of foul play – perhaps someone she’d arrested had set out to ‘punish’ her. (Yes, writers can have very sick imaginations.)

It was nothing so sinister. They died of carbon monoxide poisoning due to a blocked exhaust pipe connected to their gas fireplace.

In other words, they were totally preventable deaths. A true tragedy.

We have a carbon monoxide detector outside of our bedrooms – I insisted on it when we bought our first house with a built-in garage. Of course, once we got settled, the cars never actually managed to fit into the garage for all our boxes and camping gear so car exhaust has never been a problem. But now Guitar Hero stores his motorcycle in there, and has on occasion warmed it up inside. Even with the door to the garage open, and the inside door to the house closed, I can still smell its exhaust. So I mentioned that perhaps I should buy a second unit for the family room that leads to the garage.

Once I read that report of the police constable and her family , I decided to buy one for the basement as well. (It’s recommended carbon monoxide detectors be placed on each level of your home but not within 5 feet fuel burning appliances, or near cooking or bathing areas or you’ll have a lot of false alarms.) The other thing I need to do? Have the fireplace chimney checked. I’d never realized that a gas burning fireplace needed to be swept the same way a wood burning fireplace did. I figured it was a clean-burning fuel, so what was the problem? Apart from birds’ nests and squirrels that is …

So if you have someone hard to shop for, or someone you care a lot about, buy them a completely unglamorous present. Buy them – and yourself – something that could save lives.

Oh, and don’t forget to change the batteries on your smoke alarms regularly too.

An Unglamorous Present
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6 thoughts on “An Unglamorous Present

  • December 7, 2008 at 5:21 am

    Wonderful (and timely) reminder! thank you!

  • December 7, 2008 at 9:06 am

    We have one, and we change the batteries in it and our smoke detectors every New Year’s day during halftime of the bowl games, LOL. It’s a tradition.

    A wonderful reminder, Leah. It always breaks my heart to hear these stories each year, and there are always a few.

  • December 7, 2008 at 10:49 am

    That’s a great idea. And I didn’t know that about gas fireplaces, what a surprise.

    There are so many avoidable family tragedies during the holidays. It’s a good time to email our family and friends and remind them as well.

  • December 7, 2008 at 7:23 pm

    Great advice, my friend. We need new ones, in fact. (Long story)

    Mostly, I popped over to say thanks for the lovely words you left me. I have to confess, it’s a lot more tempting to say the heck with charity and put the money earned back into promotions, but this is something I feel strongly about. Especially when it’s music. Or books.

  • December 7, 2008 at 9:00 pm

    We’ve just checked our smoke alarm batteries. They get checked every time the clocks move forward or go back. We don’t have the same amount of heating over here in NZ since it’s not as cold. I hadn’t heard of these detectors before, but they sound like a good idea.

  • December 8, 2008 at 6:06 am

    Shelley – the fire departments around here always tell people to change the batteries when the clocks go forward or back too.

    Lori – the halftime tradition sounds like it might be not only interesting but dangerous – especially if there’s been a little beer involved. I can just imagine the celebrators climbing up on a ladder to change those batteries.

    Susan – anything for a worthy cause.

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