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Carbon monoxide poisoning a threat

Patrick McCartney

Robert Giusti of Echo Summit was the last person you would expect to die an accidental death from carbon monoxide poisoning, say those who knew him.

The 41-year-old business owner was athletic, enjoying a wide range of outdoor sports with his wife, Cynthia. And Giusti was bright enough to take precautions when he and his wife fired up a newly purchased generator last month during a two-day power outage in their Little Norway neighborhood.

Yet Robert Giusti died on Jan. 26, overcome by carbon monoxide fumes from a generator that the couple had set up outdoors and run for several hours.

According to Capt. Curt Warren of the Lake Valley Fire Protection District, Giusti’s death shows how dangerous the invisible, odor-free gas can be.

“It’s the silent killer,” said Warren, whose department investigated Giusti’s accidental death. “Carbon monoxide will infiltrate into a building very easily.”

Robert and Cynthia Giusti had taken the precaution of installing a carbon monoxide detector in their home, and the detector had sounded an alarm, said Cynthia Giusti.

“It had given us some warning,” she said. “We opened all the windows and had the fan going, and the alarm finally went off.”

While Cynthia busied herself in another part of the house, her husband went to refuel the generator, she said.

“He was putting gas in it when he stood up and then passed out,” said Cynthia Giusti. She estimated that Robert may have been unconscious for between 20 minutes and an hour when she found him, apparently already dead.

“He would be the least likely person to go down there if he thought it would affect him,” Cynthia Giusti said. “It’s very important not to let it happen again.”

Warren said the problem was the sheltered location the couple chose to place the generator – beneath a deck that was covered in snow.

“It was like it was in an enclosed room,” Warren said. “With no wind to blow it away, the gas kept making entry into the building through every nook and cranny.”

Warren said Robert Giusti had been exposed to the fumes for a while, and the cumulative effect overcame him.

“Carbon monoxide builds up in the system,” he said. “It’s like a cup of water. It fills the cup and eventually runs over and you pass out.”

Warren said breathing air with as little as 15 parts per million of carbon monoxide can make a person ill after 20 minutes. Readings taken near the generator at the Giusti’s home reached 600 parts per million, he said.

Warren said enough carbon monoxide is emitted from car exhausts that warming a car up in the garage can trigger carbon monoxide alarms inside a residence. It happens practically every time firefighters start a fire engine to respond to a call, he said.

“Every time we start the engine and pull out, which is probably between 35 and 65 seconds, carbon monoxide builds up enough to activate the automatic purging fans,” Warren said.

The only safe use of a generator, he said, is placing it away from the structure on the downwind side so that any fumes will be driven away from the residence. For that reason, he added, Giusti’s death was especially upsetting.

“It was such a bad deal. He was a young, intelligent man,” Warren said. “But this could have been avoided.”


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