Pauline saves lives after deadly carbon monoxide leak in Elm Park block

PUBLISHED: 16:55 01 May 2013 | UPDATED: 12:01 02 May 2013

The block in Mungo Park Road where the fire happened

The block in Mungo Park Road where the fire happened


A neighbour's quick thinking saved a family's lives after a potentially deadly carbon monoxide leak broke out in the middle of the night.

Pauline Smith with the carbon monoxide indicator that saved her and her neighbours' livesPauline Smith with the carbon monoxide indicator that saved her and her neighbours' lives

The family of three were taken to hospital at 2.45am on Tuesday after 75-year-old Pauline Smith’s carbon monoxide detector alerted her to the danger.

Firefighters this week said she had saved the day.

“The carbon monoxide detector undoubtedly saved this family’s lives,” said Hornchurch Fire Station watch manager Darren Draper. “If the neighbour had not raised the alarm this incident could have been a lot worse.”

The three Mungo Park Road residents - a man, a woman in her 20s and a baby believed to be about 15 months old - were taken to Whipps Cross Hospital, Leytonstone, after being treated by ambulance crews. They have since returned home.

NHS Choices information on carbon monoxide poisoning

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a poisonous gas that has no smell or taste. Breathing it in can make you unwell and it can kill.

More than 50 people die in Britain each year from accidental CO poisoning every year, and a further 200 are left seriously ill.

Symptoms of CO poisoning can include a headache, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, tiredness and confusion, stomach pain, shortness of breath and difficulty breathing.

Carbon monoxide has no smell, taste or colour and is sometimes known as the “silent killer”.

A working CO alarm, like Pauline’s, can detect a CO leak in your home and give out a high-pitched noise when levels of the gas are high.

But alarms are not a substitute for maintaining and regularly servicing household appliances. CO leaks are often caused by faulty or badly installed household appliances are the most common cause of carbon monoxide poisoning. You should ensure cookers, boilers and heaters are regularly serviced and kept in good working order.

Babies are among those most vulnerable to CO poisoning.

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It is believed the leak may have been caused by a faulty cooker.

Contractors were on Wednesday inspecting the appliance and checking carbon monoxide levels in the flat, which were dangerously high but dropping.

Upstairs neighbour Pauline said the drama started when her carbon monoxide detector had started going off late on Monday night.

She told the Recorder: “My window was open but the alarm was still going off, so I thought I’d better call the National Grid.”

An engineer came and checked Pauline’s house but found no fault with her cooker or boiler.

“I told him it must have been coming from downstairs because gas rises,” she said.

“He banged on the door but couldn’t get an answer. I told him to keep trying because there was a baby in there.

“Next thing I knew, the fire brigade, police and ambulance were outside.”

Firefighters from Hornchurch and Dagenham evacuated seven people from the block and used specialist gas detectors to check the carbon monoxide levels before allowing them back in.

Pauline said when her own flat was checked she had a nasty shock.

Wiping away tears, she said: “If I’d gone to bed that night I might never have got up.

“When the fireman checked the bedroom, he found the bulk of the gas was in there – I’d forgotten to open the window after the window cleaner came.

“He tested my blood and it had 10 per cent carbon monoxide in it. They gave me oxygen in the ambulance.”

She added she was grateful to the fire and ambulance services for their part in the rescue.

“Those people are absolutely fabulous,” she said. “Nothing is too much for them.

“I go to bed with my hearing aid in, even though I’m not supposed to, because I’m frightened of not hearing the alarm.”

The Fire Brigade’s Mr Draper added: “It is very important that everyone has a carbon monoxide alarm and at least one smoke alarm in their home.”

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