2006 carbon monoxide death leads to tighter Minn. rules

(AP) - The state of Minnesota is proposing new requirements for inspectors and contractors a year after a faulty boiler installation led to the death of a 17-year-old in his family's new house in North Branch.

Andrew Carlson was found dead in his bedroom Dec. 5, 2006, after carbon monoxide had built up overnight because of a faulty installation of a direct-vent boiler, and his parents were hospitalized. They had been using a propane boiler to heat the house.

According to a state report, a heating contractor who installed the boiler did not completely hook up its combustion ducts.

A year later, a measure to prevent such deadly mistakes is in the works. In 2006, the Legislature passed a law requiring the state labor commissioner to make sure building inspectors are competent to enforce construction codes.

Last week, Administrative Law Judge Kathleen Sheehy, who reviewed the proposed rules, found defects in their wording. A chief administrative law judge will now review the rules, which will then become public. But several months of such bureaucratic steps could follow before the changes are final.

"It provides some assurance that the people who are out there doing inspections aren't the brother-in-law of the mayor."

Tom Joachim, assistant commissioner for the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry, said that under the rules, inspectors hired after Tuesday will be required to have national certification that documents competency to ensure furnace installations are up to code or must, within one year of hire, obtain such certification.

"In the long run, the consumers will see a difference," he said. "It provides some assurance that the people who are out there doing inspections aren't the brother-in-law of the mayor."

There are 1,500 or so municipal inspectors in the state, but the rules won't apply to those already employed or to those communities, mostly rural, that haven't adopted the state building code, said James Honerman, spokesman for the Department of Labor and Industry.

Still, it's a step welcomed by attorneys for the Carlson family, who sued the furnace's installer, Indoor Comfort Systems Inc. of Wyoming, Minn., and its owner, Chris Friend, and the boiler's manufacturer, NY Thermal Inc. of Canada.

The city of North Branch should also be held accountable for the actions of its inspector, said Carlson attorney Richard Thomas, but under current case law, municipalities are considered largely immune from such litigation.

Mark Jones, the North Branch inspector who issued the certificate of occupancy for the Carlson house, left his job Dec. 14. Jones, now an inspector in Anoka County, did not return calls.

The installer, Friend, declined to comment but has maintained in legal papers that he was given improper installation instructions during a seminar by NY Thermal representatives.

Friend contends that he was told he didn't need a kit to convert the boiler from natural gas to propane use. That was, in fact, a fatal mistake, according to the lawsuit.

Clifford Taite, NY Thermal's sales manager, declined to comment. In an interview shortly after Carlson's death, however, he said the Trinity Boiler was improperly installed by the heating contractor.

Taite and Thomas both spoke of the need for state-mandated training and certification of inspectors, as well as heating contractors.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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