Two women remained in critical condition at Hennepin County Medical Center Wednesday morning, a day after being overcome by carbon monoxide at a Minneapolis apartment building.
The women were among five people rescued by firefighters, who also evacuated more than 100 other residents of the building. Minneapolis fire officials said none of the buildings 67 units had carbon monoxide detectors, although the devices are required by state law.
"This was a tragedy," Minneapolis Fire Marshal Bryan Tyner said. "I'm happy that we were able to get there when we did because it could've been a lot worse."
Fire crews arrived at the Stevens House Cooperative, at 2633 Stevens Avenue South, at 12:34 a.m. Tuesday after residents complained of nausea and headaches. Tyner said the leak came from a furnace that had not been checked or cleaned in preparation for the winter.
Crews found dangerously high carbon monoxide levels throughout the building. The gas remains shut off, but Tyner said he expects the owner will fix the problem and have service restored by the end of the week.
City regulations require that all licensed apartment units, single family homes, and new construction properties have a detector installed within 10 feet of sleeping areas.
The Stevens House Cooperative had received a provisional rental license on December 22, 2009, Tyner said, because the owners wanted to be able to rent out some of the unoccupied units.
City regulations allow owners to receive the provisional license before the building receives a fire inspection. The Minneapolis building was scheduled for inspection in October.
Fire officials issued a violation order to the cooperative Tuesday, granting it 10 days to install the detectors. Tyner said that if the detectors are installed promptly, the cooperative will not receive any fines or criminal charges.
The fire marshal could issue a misdemeanor citation for violating the fire code, a penalty that carries up to a $1,000 fine or up to a year in jail, or could issue an administrative fine. The fine for a first offense is $200, and it doubles for each additional offense, until it tops off at $2,000.
Tyner said the incident serves as a reminder that most carbon monoxide injuries are preventable. He said tenants should contact the property manager and call 311 if their unit does not have a carbon monoxide detector within 10 feet of all sleeping spaces.
Department of Public Safety spokeswoman Kristine Chapin said home and residential property owners should consider having their furnaces checked out periodically.
She said it isn't safe to rely only on a detector.
"It's not a good idea to wait for the detector, because you just don't want that level of carbon monoxide in your home at all," Chapin said. "It's much safer to make sure the [carbon monoxide] doesn't get to that level in the first place."
Chapin said thousands of people in the U.S. require medical attention annually because of carbon monoxide exposure.