HAZLETON – Firefighters say six people were treated for carbon monoxide poisoning when a plugged flue and chimney forced toxic fumes into a double-family apartment building Wednesday night.
Hazleton Fire Chief Donald Leshko told Newswatch 16 that the backup could have been avoided, because someone skipped an important part of the conversion process, when a home heating oil furnace was swapped out for a natural gas furnace inside the building on North Lee Court.
“The residue that was in the chimney from being burned with heating oil for so many years just collapsed in the chimney and blocked the chimney,” said Leshko. “If this would have persisted through the night, honestly, this morning, I think we would have been going in there with county officials, because we would have been taking people out of there in body bags.”
Workers with Super Chimney Sweep in Hazleton said it is a dangerous choice to switch home heating sources without having the chimney and flue cleaned and re-lined with aluminum or stainless steel.
“You need to reline it because oil and gas do not mix. You’re going to have condensation. It’s going to rot in your chimney in in the inside and it’s all going to fall apart,” said Antonio Cruz.
Gene Baluba told Newswatch 16 that he and five other people were treated with oxygen at Hazleton General Hospital after the scare.
“A lot of people say you’re lucky to be alive, because they say it’s the silent killer. Like I said, I was just lightheaded from it,” said Baluba. “(the carbon monoxide detector) was going off and I thought because it was roughly a year old, and it started making noise, I thought the batteries were going. I started changing them; then I looked outside and saw all the fire trucks and ambulances out here.”
Baluba said his 18-year-old lab “Bella” was also in the building during the scare, and his dog was fine after it was brought outside for some fresh air.
City code officials said they are still looking into the incident and they are unsure if the building’s owner will face any fines.