Happy 80th Birthday to my lovely dad!

Yesterday (23rd Feb), he would have been 80…. but sadly he died aged just 62.

My dad and his wife, Jenny, returned from holiday to find their home drenched with water after a pipe had burst in the loft. Because the electrics were all out, the man who was then employed by the insurers to clean up the house hired two petrol generators to power his dehumidifiers….. and he installed them IN the house. He turned them on and left, telling my dad to leave them running. My dad and his wife quickly became ill – though sadly they didn’t know why. Jenny vomited and my dad took her to the hotel the insurers had put them in and put her to bed. He was meeting an electrician later that afternoon so he returned to the house. He was found by the electrician having passed away on the upstairs landing next to one of the two generators.

The post mortem showed that he died from carbon monoxide poisoning caused by the generators. The Health & Safety Executive investigated and ran tests which showed that the generators created a level of carbon monoxide in the house that was lethal within 15 minutes. Jenny was ill for days with CO poisoning but fortunately survived.

Carbon monoxide is colourless and odourless….. but deadly!

Since my dad’s death, I have periodically researched Carbon monoxide deaths caused by petrol generators. Every year, there are deaths – in the UK, in the US and elsewhere. Often UK deaths are Security Guards, minding a property overnight and using a petrol generator to power lighting or heating. It’s still happening….. I just read about a case in 2019. A few years after my dad’s death, a father and son tragically both died in the cellar of a Rugby Club after it got flooded and they used a generator to operate a pump. Given all the recent floods, I hope this warning is shared widely – it might just prevent an unnecessary death. I have implored MP’s and the HSE to improve and enlarge the warning signage on generators.

In the US, approximately 75 people a year die from this!! There, many people buy generators, especially if they are in area prone to hurricanes and power outages. There have even been cases where people have died after putting the generator outside and the air conditioning system has dragged the CO inside! A study tracking confirmed deaths related to Hurricane Irma in Florida, Georgia and North Carolina attributed 16 fatalities to carbon monoxide poisoning and 11 to the storm itself! Research presented to Congress showed that the majority of people who bought or hired a generator didn’t read the safety instructions before use!

It breaks my heart that my lovely dad was taken so early through this tragic event. It pains me greatly that people are still dying in this way!

So I decided to write this on what would have been my dad’s 80th Birthday to warn others of the dangers. Please share.

If you hire or buy a petrol generator (or are anywhere where one is in use), PLEASE PLEASE ensure it is NEVER used indoors or in your garage or near an air conditioning vent or in any enclosed or semi-enclosed space (like a tent or marquee). The fumes are deadly incredibly quickly. The warning sign below is from the US – ours in the UK are still not as clear.

Edit: I forgot to say that, given that CO deaths are also caused by faulty/blocked gas flues (and on boats), I urge everyone to buy a CO monitor (like a little fire alarm). They cost about £5.

Sending my love and ‘good health’ to all who read this.

In memory of my wonderful, clever and kind dad, John William Lane (1940-2003), who did more than his fair share to make this world a better place.

Tom Lane

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