LINCOLN — Normand and Evelyn Olean sat at their dining room table conversing and laughing with Lime Rock Fire Chief Frank Sylvester early Wednesday afternoon.
Just 28 hours before, the senior couple and the chief spent time together for a vastly different reason; Sylvester maintains the Oleans, who have been married 56 years, are lucky to be alive after massive levels of carbon monoxide were discovered inside their Sherman Avenue home Tuesday morning.
“As soon as I got here, some time around 8 a.m., I knew exactly what was going on,” the chief explained. “I could tell just by looking at Evelyn; her face was really rosy. I started questioning her, and she said she felt nauseous and a little dizzy.
“Our Engine 31 arrived, and Fire Marshal Steve Tucker and Capt. Russell Thibeault came in right away with their monitors,” he added. “They went around the first floor, and they measured the carbon monoxide at 50-55 parts per million, which is enough to put anyone to sleep. Once you get up around 75 parts per million, you fall asleep and never wake up.
“Then the guys went down to the basement, and found levels over 165 parts per million; that's deadly. I took Evelyn aside and told her, 'Do you know how close you came to expiring? God was watching over you.'”
Evelyn's response: “No doubt. Thank God.”
According to Sylvester and Thibeault, 'tis the season for folks around Blackstone Valley to make sure their carbon monoxide and smoke detectors are in premier working order. The reasons: As folks begin turning up their heating systems, stoves and water heaters or open the flues to their fireplaces, carbon monoxide is more prone to seep into their cellars and other sections of their homes.
In fact, the Town of Lincoln calendar even states in big red letters under Sunday, Nov. 6, “Daylight Saving Time Ends — Change Batteries in Smoke Detectors.
“In my 45-year career as a firefighter, I've said time and time again that carbon monoxide alarms are more important than smoke detectors.; that's why they call CO poisoning the 'Silent Killer.' You can't see it, smell it or taste it. If there's something wrong with your boiler or hot water heater, before you know it, you can fall asleep, and you may never wake up.
“Just this weekend, there have been many instances of CO poisonings throughout New England; I know there were two deaths in Connecticut related to carbon monoxide over the past 72 hours.”
This is how fast carbon monoxide can sneak up on people.
Evelyn Olean claimed she noticed, after walking down her cellar stairs to put in a load of laundry on Monday, a strange smell emanating from some appliance, but didn't know which.
“I mentioned it to Norm, and he just told me, 'I don't smell anything, but if you feel uncomfortable, call Dupuis Oil (Co. of Pawtucket),'” Evelyn noted. “I came upstairs, proceeded to do some other chores and didn't go back down again, so I forgot about it.”
She woke up Tuesday at her standard time, about 6:45 a.m., but admitted she was a bit more groggy than usual.
“I thought I had a problem with my inner ear; I wasn't really dizzy, but I felt I had a lack of focus, of clarity,” she stated. “I knew I had an early doctor's appointment, so I thought if I jumped in the shower, I'd feel better.
“Norm was still asleep, so I left him alone,” she continued. “When I got out of the shower, I could smell something weird in the bathroom, and on the first floor. I went down to the basement, opened the door and I could smell something very strong. It was almost like a chemical smell, and it was kind of hazy down there. I went over to the water heater, and I looked at the digital CO detector; the numbers were very high.
“I have two down there, and the other one talks to you. That one was saying, 'Carbon monoxide warning. Carbon monoxide warning.'”
She immediately opened the basement doors and windows, then ran upstairs and opened those. She also woke up Normand, telling him to get out of bed, but he just said, “What's the matter? I want to sleep!” She first phoned the oil company, then called Sylvester at the Lime Rock Fire District's Great Road Station 1.
“Frank told me, 'I'll be there in two minutes!' and he was,” she said. “Norm kept saying, 'What are you rushing for?' and I kept telling him, 'We have to get out of here! Carbon monoxide warning, carbon monoxide warning!'”
Revealed the chief: “What happened to the Oleans happens every year around this time, and in the winter months. I'm glad she thought of me enough to call me, and I'm ecstatic I was where I was so I could respond quickly. We've known her a long time, as her grandchildren used to draw (New England Arson Watch Rewards Program) posters about fire safety in school, and they won awards for them.
“Like I said, to me, carbon monoxide is one of the most dangerous things going in the home,” he added. “At least with a fire, you can see the smoke and flames, feel the heat, but not with carbon monoxide.
“Norm and Evelyn were very sick; she was nauseous and dizzy, and Norm was somewhat rosy red. The firefighters came in and started taking the readings, and they told us how bad it was … It's critical this time of year for people to check their CO detectors, replace the batteries and also check their hot water heaters, boilers, generators, things like that.
“Look at this couple: Here, a beautiful family would have expired if they hadn't checked the detectors.”
Evelyn Olean indicated she felt like a new woman Wednesday afternoon.
“I feel so much better; Frank had asked me if I wanted to take a rescue unit to the hospital, but I said I didn't. He told me I was getting the color back in my face … I can honestly say we have the best fire department in the state. Whenever I need him here for 'Dad,' if he falls or passes out, those firemen are here within seconds. I give them a lot of credit.”
Offered Norm: “I know we're lucky, and that I'm lucky to have Evelyn here. I think I'll keep her.”
She just flashed a glowing smile.