Documents: Durham fire chief wants further CO checks at McDougald Terrace when temps drop

Durham County News

DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) – Durham County’s fire chief wants to continue checking the city’s largest public housing complex for carbon monoxide when the weather gets colder. 

Documents obtained Friday by CBS 17 illustrate the timeline that started with Christmas Day concerns and led to the inspection of nearly 200 units and the installation of dozens of carbon monoxide detectors during three days of checks at McDougald Terrace between Dec. 27-30. 

The housing authority released inspection results Thursday during a community meeting after there were reports of carbon monoxide exposures at the complex. 

“It’s devastating.  It’s a serious issue.  It’s a silent killer.  Some people can go to sleep and never wake up,” said Brittney Lee.

Lee has lived at McDougald Terrace for three years. The pregnant mom was one of many people hoping to evacuate Friday night, saying she no longer felt safe in her home.

She said the confusion and scramble to get out didn’t ease any of the concerns raised by residents over the past week.

“I just want to be treated like any other citizen in Durham,’ said Lee.  “I don’t want to feel like I’m inadequate because I’m in housing authority.”

Documents obtained Friday by CBS 17 illustrate the timeline that started with Christmas Day concerns and led to the inspection of nearly 200 units and the installation of dozens of carbon monoxide detectors during three days of checks at McDougald Terrace between Dec. 27-30. 

Mom of five Tela Shaw said a new monitor was recently installed in her unit.

“Every time my heat comes on, it goes off all night long. I don’t use the heat because I’m scared,” said Shaw.  “I’d rather us be cold rather than lose a child.”

The housing authority released inspection results Thursday during a community meeting after there were reports of carbon monoxide exposures at the complex. 

At the meeting, DHA officials said two infants deaths could possibly be linked to elevated carbon monoxide.

The investigations began Dec. 27 and continued on Dec. 28 and 30. 

EMS staff on Dec. 27 found one child with elevated carbon monoxide readings and an adult female was treated and released at Duke Hospital after showing signs of high carbon monoxide saturation.  

A resident was found Dec. 28 to have an elevated level of carbon monoxide saturation declined to be taken to a hospital. Another resident Dec. 30 was found to have a higher level of the gas and was treated at Duke Regional Hospital. 

Anthony Scott, DHA CEO said the decision to evacuate residents was made Friday after two more cases of elevated carbon monoxide levels.

“Durham Housing Authority is conducting a voluntary relocation for all McDougald Terrace residents to hotels until carbon monoxide risks have been eliminated. The safety of our residents is our top priority, and we are taking immediate action to relocate everyone impacted while working with a cross-functional response team to stabilize the units. We are communicating directly with residents of the community and additional updates will be provided once the voluntary relocation is safely completed.”

The investigations also checked 196 units and installed 453 detectors for either smoke or carbon monoxide, a toxic, odorless gas that is emitted when fuel or other carbon-based materials are burned. 

Scott said inspections should last a week, giving crews a longer period of time to monitor levels in each unit and make any necessary repairs.

Fire Chief Robert J. Zoldos II says in a letter to Anthony Scott, CEO of the Durham Housing Authority, that he recommends a more thorough inspection of all units that “would best be achieved during cold weather when the homes are more likely to be sealed and the heaters are certain to be in use.” 

He also noticed a number of units where residents likely heat their homes with their stoves.  

The most recent round of readings came during the “somewhat open environment of the homes,” and warm post-Christmas weather “reduced the need for home heating which further reduced our chance of finding the worst-case scenario,” Zoldos wrote.  

The highest level of carbon monoxide discovered was 28 parts per million, according to the letter; alarms on detectors sound at 35 parts per million. 

Concerns were raised on Dec. 25, when Assistant Fire Chief Lee Van Vleet spotted a trend of carbon monoxide-related calls to Durham County EMS and notified several stakeholder agencies. 

A day later, the city’s fire department formed a task force consisting of representatives of the city’s fire department, housing authority and neighborhood improvement services along with the county’s EMS. 

The investigations began Dec. 27 and continued on Dec. 28 and 30. 

EMS staff on Dec. 27 found one child with elevated carbon monoxide readings and an adult female was treated and released at Duke Hospital after showing signs of high carbon monoxide saturation.  

A resident was found Dec. 28 to have an elevated level of carbon monoxide saturation declined to be taken to a hospital. Another resident Dec. 30 was found to have a higher level of the gas and was treated at Duke Regional Hospital. 

The investigations also checked 196 units and installed 453 detectors for either smoke or carbon monoxide, a toxic, odorless gas that is emitted when fuel or other carbon-based materials are burned. 

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