Codes Save Lives

Inspector discovers carbon monoxide leak, saves children

When Johnny Vollendroff arrived at the rental property that day in 1996, he thought he was checking out a simple code complaint. Little did he know how important that visit would be. While the man of the house showed him around the place, John noted multiple code violations. The electric panel was incorrectly placed and missing its door. The lighting consisted of a single loop of exposed wiring hanging from the ceiling. The toilet was leaking through the bathroom wall into a kitchen cabinet, where a variety of molds grew. The windows were all single pane plastic. But, upon entering the living room, he saw the scariest thing. A gas fired heater sat in the spot where a wood stove must have been. The flue in the wall was open. The stove was exhausting directly in to the room. Beside it was a 50-gallon propane tank.

Johnny noticed that as they walked around the house, the gentleman had coughed frequently. Johnny now turned and asked him about his cold. The man replied that he wasn’t nearly as sick as his wife and kids. The family had all gotten the flu a few weeks before and it just wouldn’t go away. He described the symptoms, including blood shot eyes and a runny nose. Johnny explained to the man that these were all signs of carbon monoxide poisoning. They bundled the family into the gentleman’s car and drove to the health department.

The attending doctor later described the children as having the worst cases of carbon monoxide poisoning he had ever seen that had not resulted in death. That unconnected flue in the wall may have let enough fresh air into the living room to keep them alive. However, they would not have lasted much longer. The family moved out of the rental house immediately and Johnny condemned the property. He knew that his efforts had saved those children’s lives.

Story submitted by
Johnny Lee Vollendroff
Building Inspector/Code Official
California

Codes Save Lives

Code compliance saves business

The Allen County, Indiana, Building Department was recently contacted by a local fire department following a commercial business fire to evaluate the need for an emergency demolition order for the portion of the building that remained standing. In my capacity as Building Commissioner, I responded to the call and met with fire officials and the owner of the business.

Although the investigation into the cause of the fire had not been completed, preliminary review pointed to arson. As we discussed how to handle the remainder of the building and the substantial amount of debris, the owner commented that he now understood the benefits of fire and building codes. He noted that the portion of the building that was still standing, containing the administrative offices, had recently been remodeled and that the contractor had been required to add fire separation walls between the office area and the warehouse. This had increased the cost for the work but, as the owner now acknowledged, turned out to be worth every penny.

While there had been some damage to the offices, all of the company’s paper files and computer records were able to be salvaged. In fact, less than eight hours after the fire was reported the owner and his crews were in the process of moving the material to another building in preparation for the resumption of business activities. While losing his facility was a hardship, the owner still had an operating business because the building and fire safety codes had been followed.

The fire occurred at 3 a.m. so the building was empty and there were no injuries or deaths, but the codes also protect in other ways. In this case, a business was able to recover critical records and continue operations with minimal downtime.

Story submitted by
David O. Fuller, C.B.O.
Building Commissioner
Building Department
Allen County, IN