It was the start of Mother’s Day weekend. The Haas family of Lower Paxton Township was sleeping soundly inside their home around 3 a.m. when a carbon monoxide alarm went off in one of their daughters’ rooms.
“And at that point of the day, my first thought was just make it stop,” Heidi Haas recalled.
She and her husband Michael unplugged the alarm, opened a window, and brought 11-year-old Rebecca into their room to sleep.
“I was thinking that the alarm had malfunctioned and wasn’t working properly because we do have a second alarm in our bedroom and it wasn’t going off,” Michael Haas said.
The family left early the next morning, returning at 10 p.m.
“When we walked in the door, there was just an overpowering smell of what I thought was natural gas,” Heidi said.
But Michael and a tech from UGI were able to confirm that wasn’t the issue at all. The man told them he couldn’t detect natural gas, but he did find lethal levels of carbon monoxide.
The culprit was a battery backup on their basement sump pump.
Like most people, Heidi and Michael had heard about the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning during cold winter months. They never considered the battery as a potential problem.
“You wouldn’t think something in your house like a battery could be something that would give off a lethal gas,” Heidi said.
Heidi spent Mother’s Day thankful that her family was alive.
“We were very fortunate that we had that odor as a trigger to make us look for something because as high as that gas readings were downstairs, I’m not sure we would be here right now,” she said.
“We would have gone to bed that night and who knows if we would have woken up the next day,” Michael said.
Upon checking the other detector that had given Michael a false sense of security that first night, the family learned the batteries were dead.
The Haas family hopes by sharing their story, they will raise awareness and inspire people to either purchase carbon monoxide detectors or check the batteries in their existing ones.
Note: ABC27 News received a call after this story first aired from an industry insider who questioned whether batteries can emit carbon monoxide. We checked with a local fire marshal who says it’s rare, but based on the family’s description of how the battery was burning, the resulting fire could emit carbon monoxide gas. We’ve also seen reports that hydrogen gas, which batteries can emit, has been known to set off CO detectors. An abundance of hydrogen is known to cause its own health and safety issues.