Carbon monoxide poisoning at motel a warning, says advocate whose family died in 2008 leak

Posted on 10.07.2019 in the General category

A mass carbon monoxide poisoning at a Winnipeg motel should be a warning to individuals and politicians about the dangers of the odourless, deadly gas, says a former Ontario firefighter and safety advocate.

“I’m very disappointed … we don’t have all the laws to protect citizens equally,” said John Gignac, a captain with the Brantford Fire Department for 34 years.

“Every province in Canada should have the same law in place to protect everybody in their homes, workplaces, businesses or leisure cottages,” he said.

On Tuesday 46 people were treated for carbon monoxide poisoning after a leak at the Super 8 Motel West on Portage Avenue in Winnipeg. The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority said all survived.

The motel’s owner said Tuesday his business recently had a fire inspection and the property was deemed “all good.” To comply with Manitoba’s fire codes, the motel must have a carbon monoxide alarm. 

Gignac described Tuesday’s leak as bittersweet, saying he was relieved no one died but says it’s an example of how easily carbon monoxide can put people in danger.

“Let’s not have another tragedy to make us wake up,” he said.

Gignac began advocating for more carbon monoxide detectors in businesses and homes after his niece, Laurie Hawkins, her husband and two children died in a carbon monoxide leak in Woodstock, Ont., in 2008. He started the Hawkins-Gignac Foundation for CO Education in their memory. 

John Gignac is a former Ontario fire captain and the founder of the Hawkins-Gignac Foundation for CO Education. (supplied)

Gignac went on to successfully lobby the Ontario government to pass a law in 2013 making carbon monoxide detectors mandatory in all homes with fuel-burning appliances, fireplaces or an attached garage.

In Manitoba, carbon monoxide detectors are only mandatory in new homes and other buildings built after 2011 as well as in structures that require regular fire safety inspections, such as: motels, hotels, hospitals, personal care homes, restaurants with living quarters, schools and daycares, the province said.

In older single-family homes, it’s up to owners to take steps to install detectors. 

Gignac hopes Tuesday’s leak will encourage individuals to ensure their homes have working detectors — especially in areas where people sleep — and prompt government to make detectors mandatory in all homes and buildings, regardless of their age.

“I’m hoping that it may tweak some of the politicians,” he said.

Along with installing detectors at home, Gignac encourages everyone to travel with a battery-operated carbon monoxide detector to catch the gas in places they may not expect. Carbon monoxide can leak into places like tents, trailers and boats from engines, generators or propane-powered heaters, he said. 

“If I’m in a motel room, motor home or at a cottage I take the CO alarm, put the batteries in it and activate it while I’m there so that this type of thing can’t happen,” he said.

The cause of Tuesday’s leak is still under investigation.

Laura Glowacki · CBC News · Posted: Jul 10, 2019 5:00 AM CT | Last Updated: July 10

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