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Residents return to Oakland apartment building after carbon monoxide scare

| Sunday, Oct. 7, 2012, 1:06 p.m.
A Pittsburgh Bureau of Fire truck sits outside the King Edward Apartments building on Craig Street in Oakland on Sunday October 7, 2012. A detection of carbon monoxide caused the evacuation of the building this afternoon. Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review

A carbon monoxide monitor at a tenant's home in the King Edward apartment building in Oakland might have prevented an inconvenience from escalating into a disaster Sunday afternoon.

“Actually, it probably would have been catastrophic, judging by the carbon monoxide levels found by the boiler,” said Mike Robinson, district chief of Pittsburgh Emergency Medical Services. “They were extremely high and dangerous, over 1,000 parts per million, which sustained, could be lethal.”

Police and firefighters evacuated about 180 people from the 10-story building at Bayard and North Craig streets for more than two hours because of high carbon monoxide levels. Fire officials blamed a poorly ventilated boiler.

One woman was taken to UPMC Presbyterian after complaining of a headache.

The gas, which is colorless and odorless, can kill people at high levels and cause symptoms similar to the flu at lower levels, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Pittsburgh fire Battalion Chief Ray McDonald said a carbon monoxide detector in a woman's apartment alerted her to the problem.

Emergency responders evacuated residents about 12:30 p.m. and allowed them to return about 2:45 p.m.

Fire officials said a level of 50 parts per million is considered dangerous. The boiler room measured at 1,000 parts per million, and a ninth-floor apartment was 130 parts per million.

Roads were closed around the building, and five fire trucks were parked outside. The apartments rent for $600 to $1,600 a month plus utilities, according to the website for Sterling Land Co., the King Edward's owner. A company representative could not be reached.

Robinson urged residents to get carbon monoxide monitors, test them every six months and keep the batteries charged. “We get a lot of carbon monoxide alarms,” he said.

To comfort occupants of the building, emergency crews provided blankets to evacuees and a bus where they could stay until they were allowed to return.

Victoria Keiser, 28, and her husband, who live on the fifth floor, were not aware of the problem until they heard firefighters beating on their door to tell them to get out.

“It's inconvenient,” Keiser said.

Bill Zlatos is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7828 or bzlatos@tribweb.com.

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