BASALT, Colorado - An elderly couple's unfamiliarity with carbon monoxide detectors led to a decision that nearly cost them their lives on Christmas Eve Day, according to their son.
Ed Freedman said the incident is a textbook example of why homeowners must educate themselves, their families and any other guests about the purpose of the alarms and what to do if they are triggered.
Freedman's mother and her husband unhooked a carbon monoxide detector in the home where they were staying in Basalt during the early morning of Christmas Eve day because it was annoying them, he said. They mistook it to be a malfunctioning smoke detector.
"At midnight the alarm went crazy. It worked perfectly," Freedman said.
The detector worked so well that it startled his mom, Fran Blum, 68, and her husband, Jon Blum, 75, even though they both wear hearing aids. The couple thought the carbon monoxide detector was a malfunctioning smoke detector, so Jon Blum took action.
"He removes the battery and rips it out of the wall," Freedman said. Blum fell off a chair or stool in the process. He fell and suffered a black eye, according to Freedman. Nevertheless, the couple returned to sleep secure in the thought they did the right thing.
The Blums are frequent visitors from Philadelphia. They stay at a residence that Freedman owns at The Wilds in Basalt. Freedman and his family live in Aspen. For this trip, Fran invited her best friend, Myra Prusky, and her boyfriend.
The couples went out to dinner Wednesday night and returned home around 9 p.m. Jon Blum let his three passengers out of a Range Rover, then parked the vehicle in the garage attached the residence. Jon Blum simply made an absentminded mistake and didn't turn off the vehicle's ignition before he closed the garage door, Freedman said.
The Blums retreated to their bedroom on the home's third floor. Their guests were in a bedroom next to the garage. Carbon monoxide rises so it triggered the carbon monoxide detector outside of the Blums' bedroom later that night, but not the detector near the bedroom of the guests.
The next morning, Prusky grew concerned that Fran wasn't up to go meet her daughter. Prusky and her boyfriend, Stan, called out to the Blums but received no reply. Around 8:30 a.m., they entered the Blums' bedroom and found them breathing but unresponsive. They immediately opened the windows and called 911. "They should be given a lot of credit," Freedman said. Stan's last name wasn't available.
Basalt police officers and fire-rescue teams responded in eight minutes and treated the couple. That quick response is something the community should take pride in, Freedman said. The Blums were rushed to Aspen Valley Hospital, then airlifted to a Denver hospital, where they were placed in a hyperbaric chamber the remainder of Christmas Eve and most of Christmas Day. Freedman had his mom and her husband flown back to Aspen in time for dinner Christmas night.
"We celebrated life," he said, noting they easily could have been grieving. "They both seem to be doing remarkably well."
The Blums were monitored back in Aspen because the effects of carbon monoxide poisoning can continue to materialize up to 45 hours after the event. It's unknown how close the Blums were to death. Doctors said anywhere from five minutes to an hour of additional exposure might have killed them, Freedman said.
Prusky and Stan drove themselves to Aspen Valley Hospital and "checked out fine" after three hours on oxygen, Freedman said.
Basalt police investigators had ruled out foul play but acknowledged they were "puzzled" by the strange events tied to the incident. Freedman said he understands the confusion. He is nominating his mother's husband for the "mistake of the year" for leaving the car running and tearing down the carbon monoxide detector. On the other hand, maybe the incident can be helpful, Freedman said.
"This is kind of a wake-up call," he said. Freedman urged homeowners to make sure carbon monoxide detectors are installed in their own homes and rental properties. He said detectors have been in the Basalt residence he owns since he purchased it several years ago.
As the incident proved, though, the presence of detectors isn't enough. He said homeowners should educate their children and guests about the role of carbon monoxide detectors and their difference from smoke detectors. Most importantly, call authorities if a carbon monoxide detector is going off, he said.