Chatham-Kent fire officials welcomed a retired Brantford fire captain who lost family members to carbon monoxide poisoning to share the message that residents don’t have to suffer the same tragedy.
John Gignac, who founded the Hawkins-Gignac Foundation for CO Education, lost his niece Laurie Hawkins, her husband Richard and their children Cassandra and Jordan in December 2008. They did not have a CO detector in their Woodstock home at the time, and Gignac said neither did he.
“I know other people who have gone through tragedies, but this one was very difficult to handle because it was something that could have been prevented, especially with me being on the fire service,” Gignac said following a news conference at Fire Station No. 12 North Harwich on Tuesday.
Gignac visited as part of Carbon Monoxide Awareness Week, from Nov. 1 to Nov. 7. He also made appearances in Sarnia and St. Thomas.
He said other people who have gas appliances in their homes can avoid his loss if they have a working CO detector outside of bedrooms.
“Do it today. Don’t wait until tomorrow,” he said, adding people should also have a TSSA-certified professional inspect their appliances each year.
Gignac, whose foundation works with First Alert and the Technical Standards and Safety Authority, brought 24 carbon monoxide alarms to donate to the local fire department.
He said fire departments are “more than willing” to help anyone who can’t afford an alarm, and his foundation has donated more than 15,000 alarms in the last 10 years.
Chatham-Kent Fire & Emergency Services Chief Chris Case said residents can call the department’s administration any time and firefighters will visit to discuss the safety measures related to carbon monoxide.
“It’s the silent killer,” Case said. “You can’t smell it (or) taste it. … We’re almost pleading with the community, ‘Call us and let’s have a conversation.’”
Case said people should understand the effects from carbon monoxide sometimes take time to appear.
He also said people shouldn’t assume their alarm is simply faulty.
“Make the call,” Case said. “Dial 911, get the fire crews out. We’ll deal with it. We’ll give you advice and we’ll protect you in the home. That’s what we’re here to do.”
The fire chief said they usually find CO alarms during their home visits, but sometimes they are expired. He said it’s not enough just to change the batteries.
Gignac was part of the effort to make it law in Ontario for homes with sources of carbon monoxide to have at least one working CO detector. That law, the Hawkins-Gignac Act, passed in 2014 with all-party support.
He said awareness of the issue across Ontario has improved “by leaps and bounds” since he started the foundation, but there are always some people who either overlook this or can’t afford the devices.
“Those are the people we’re trying to reach to make sure they get protected as well as all the other people in your community,” he said. “I want everybody safe, not just one, and we can do it through education and donating CO alarms.”
Safety tips are available at www.endthesilence.ca and www.safetyinfo.ca.