The family of six, living at a home in St. Paul's Midway neighborhood, did have a carbon monoxide detector in the home. But apparently that was not enough to save the young man.
St. Paul Deputy Fire Chief Michael Gulner says the victim, who died at the scene, was sleeping in the basement. Gulner says rescue workers initially thought the man died of a heart attack. About an hour later the fire department was called back to the home.
"The fire department received another report that the carbon monoxide detector was sounding in that residence. It had not been sounding when they were out there the first time," said Gulner. "The carbon monoxide detector was sounding and they sent a ladder company there with a CO monitor -- a carbon monoxide monitor -- and they found high levels in the home of 400 parts per million."
Gulner says that's more than 10 times the level considered safe. Firefighters called Xcel Energy, which found the source of the high levels of carbon monoxide.
"It was found that they had a bad boiler in the basement. It was putting out 4,700 parts per million out the back of the boiler," said Gulner. "That was due to a malfunction with an electronic damper in the unit. That's what actually killed the young man in the basement."
Gulner says two adults and three children were taken to the Hennepin County Medical Center, which has a hyperbaric chamber that helps treat smoke inhalation and carbon monoxide poisoning.
Gulner says carbon monoxide levels near the home's detector on an upper floor were apparently not initially high enough to set off the alarm.
Carbon monoxide is odorless and colorless. Experts say often by the time people realize they're suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning, they can't do anything about it because it's difficult to move.
Carbon monoxide is produced by the burning of fuels such as gas, oil, kerosene, wood or charcoal. Dangerous amounts of the gas can build up when fuel is not burned properly, or when heaters aren't properly vented.
Kathleen Norlien, a research scientist at the Minnesota Department of Health, says carbon monoxide poisoning is all too common in the state.
The latest data shows that between 2002 and 2006 there were 89 deaths in Minnesota alone," said Norlien. "That breaks out to about 18 per year, and that would be unintentional non-fire related deaths attributed to carbon monoxide."
Norlein says a new Minnesota law should help to curb the number deaths. As of January 2008, all newly constructed single family homes in Minnesota must have a carbon monoxide alarm.
Norlein says as of August 2008 all existing homes in Minnesota will also need to install an alarm.
"And that calls for one device within 10 feet of every room used for sleeping," Norlein said.
Norlein says the latest case in St. Paul -- where the family did have a carbon monoxide detector -- shows it's important to also know the signs of carbon monoxide poisoning. They include flu-like symptoms, cardiac distress, shortness of breath and nausea.
She says it's important to leave the home immediately and call 911 if an alarm goes off or if you have symptoms.