It will be several weeks before the final toxicology reports are released to specifically identify the gas that killed a 28-year-old mother and her eight month old daughter in the Rose Hill area of Mount Vernon. That's the assessment of Fairfax County police and fire officials
County police were called to the home in the 6400 block of Prospect Terrace about 2:30 p.m. on January 9, after receiving a call from the homeowner who discovered an acquaintance, who had been staying in the house, was unconscious and unresponsive. Upon entering the house, police were met with a heavy odor of gas and summoned Fairfax County Fire and Rescue, according to Lieutenant Mark Stone, fire department community relations.
"Police alerted us because they said the odor of gas was overwhelming when they went in," Stone explained. "The preliminary reports indicate a high level of carbon monoxide in the house and the victims."
Although preliminary indications suggest that the cause of death was due to carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning from a faulty hot water heater and/or furnace, according to police reports, Stone cautioned against drawing any premature conclusions since the home is also supplied by natural gas.
"CO is a product of the incomplete or improper burning of a fossil fuel and is usually odorless and tasteless," Stone said. When fire department personnel arrived they found Anh Phuong Tran of 5308 C Steeplechase Drive, and her daughter, Amy Ho, in the bedroom. They were pronounced dead at the scene, according to police.
Fairfax County Police spokesperson Jacqi Smith indicated at the time that the victims had been visiting at the home and no foul play was suspected. The actual type of gas is still under investigation, police stated.
AS POINTED OUT by Stone, carbon monoxide is produced by combustion, but carbon monoxide accidents are preventable." The fire department suggests the following:
. Have all gas furnaces and appliances checked by a qualified technician every fall.
. Never allow the car to run in an enclosed area, especially if the garage is attached to the house.
. Make sure all fireplaces are in good repair and never close the damper before the fire is totally out.
. Install CO alarms on all levels of the house the same as smoke alarms. These can be combination alarms.
CO IS NOT ONLY a silent killer but an odorless, colorless, and tasteless one as well. It causes about 300 accidental fatalities each year, according to the fire department.
CO combines with hemoglobin in the blood and robs the blood of oxygen. Early symptoms of exposure include headache, fatigue, nausea, and confused thinking. Victims lose consciousness and then their lives if not discovered in time.
The department cautions, "If the CO alarm goes off, get out of the house immediately and call the department by dialing 911" from a neighbor's house, cell phone, or pay phone. Do not ventilate the house."
Officials said when fire department personnel arrive they will obtain CO readings in different area of the structure to determine the source of the CO, they emphasize.
"Another very important point to remember is that working smoke detectors are still needed on every level. The CO alarm does not sense smoke or fire," according to fire department officials.
Stone said, "The department does not supply CO detectors as we do smoke alarms. But, we will perform courtesy home inspections. Residents need only call their local fire station or the Life Safety Education line at 703-246-3861."