The office of the NWT Chief Coroner is calling for a public awareness campaign about the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning from propane/gas heating appliances following the deaths of a couple at a cabin outside Hay River last fall.
Coroner James Forsey found that the accidental deaths of common-law partners Robert Bradley and Florence Laviolette-Rapp, aged 52 and 58 respectively, on Oct. 12, 2013 were caused by acute carbon monoxide toxicity stemming from the use of indoor propane lamps.
The couple had been renting a cabin at the Mount Aven campground outside of Hay River when they were found deceased by RCMP after the owner showed up to collect rent and received no answer.
According to the coroner’s report, a local propane dealer and GNWT gas inspector examined the propane system in the cabin, which consisted of an exterior tank, interior stove, furnace and lamps.
The lamps revealed evidence of inefficient burning. Further inspection found the lamps to be working properly, and when left burning at a low setting for over eight hours in the airtight cabin revealed lethal levels of carbon monoxide.
Both individuals were transported to Edmonton for post-mortem examination, where it was determined that the levels of carbon monoxide inhaled had been high enough to account for death.
The coroner’s office made a single, broad recommendation to the NWT premier to develop and implement a public awareness campaign for people across the territory, whether they be landlords, property owners or tenants, in relation to propane appliances.
The awareness campaign should be aimed at ensuring people understand the risks of improperly installed or poorly maintained appliances, and to highlight the importance of proper installation, along with the use of smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, both of which were absent from the cabin, according to the report.
While the lamps in the cabin were professionally installed, Chief Coroner Cathy Menard said it’s important for everyone in the North to have an understanding of the hazards of using such appliances.
“Safety begins with knowledge,” she told The Journal. “In the North, so many people have cabins and so many people use different appliances, so we kind of made that recommendation sort of broad because, although in this case it was a lamp, it could have been the other things we listed in the cabin.”
While individual community fire departments sometimes put on awareness-raising events or campaigns related to things like furnace maintenance and carbon monoxide detection, Menard said there needs to be a coordinated effort by government to ensure that message reaches all NWT residents.
“We just wanted it to be broad across the whole Northwest Territories, to get that message out to everybody, whether you live in Fort Smith or in Deline or in Yellowknife,” she said.