Monday, January 6, 2014


A blackout in the dead of Winter is a recipe for disaster.

The Government and NALCOR have a lot to answer for. The public should have been aware that the risk of blackouts this winter was higher than ever because reserve supplies of electricity were not up to the task of meeting the increased demands that could be brought on by extremely cold weather.

All I have heard from officials so far are lame excuses about five year averages and perfect storms. The pronouncements by the Premier that the blackouts are proof of the urgent need for Muskrat Power is almost contemptible. This was a time for reassurance, empathy and leadership not political propaganda.

With hundred of thousands of Newfoundlanders affected by the three days of blackouts - up to a dozen people have been confirmed as victims of carbon monoxide poisoning.  The Telegram is reporting that at least one victim  has died.

With no electricity, hundreds of thousands of people scurried to find alternative sources of heat to stay warm and heat to cook meals. Carbon monoxide is produced whenever a fuel such as gas, oil, kerosene, wood or charcoal is burned.

Fire, health, EMO officials and community leaders preached the need for caution and safe practices to prevent fire and CO poisoning during the blackouts.

As the Telegram reported, Vince MacKenzie,  president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Fire Services, twittered about the need to be aware of the threat posed by carbon monoxide. “Outdoor camping equipment should not be used inside the home during power outages,” he wrote in post to Twitter on Saturday. “Carbon monoxide is produced and is trapped inside.”

I followed the hourly coverage of the blackouts on VOCM and CBC Radio. If there was one overall theme it was be safe. Municipalities offered warming centers, some seniors were relocated and officials preached the need for caution and personal responsibility when it came to the use of candles, generators & kerosine heaters and propane fueled equipment designed for use outdoors.
Without the great Blackout of 2014 the upsurge in carbon monoxide poisonings may not have occurred at all. Some will be looking to blame those responsible for managing our energy system for creating the circumstances leading to the poisonings. Some will try and point the finger of blame for every fire caused by a candle or kerosine heater during the blackouts.

There may be some bizarre logic in pointing fingers, but I can not subscribe.

However, prevention is key. As a person who uses a fire place and an oil furnace, I am aware of the dangers of CO. Every year we hear stories of tragedies where cabin owners or fishing boat crews succumbed to CO because of poor, or non-existent ventilation.

Installing a CO alarm is as important as a fire alarm. Life-threatening amounts of CO can be produced with out any visible warning signs. Dangerous levels of CO caused by malfunctioning or improperly used fuel-burning appliances can collect in an enclosed space. The results can be tragic.

We all have to take responsibility for our own safety and prepare for emergency situations. That is why we keep a spare tire in our cars, travel with candles and blankets in Winter, have home first aid kits and purchase insurances. Disasters and misfortunes occur. No one is immune.
Fail to plan, plan to fail.

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