Officials push for certification requirement after recent carbon-monoxide poisoning

Evanston fire marshall Tim Overy speaks at the March 22 Evanston City Council meeting, in which he and several community members spoke in favor of an ordinance that would require certification for anyone installing or working on fuel-burning appliances. Representatives with Dominion Gas also support an ordinance requiring certification, and they returned to push for a change after an Evanston couple nearly died last month from carbon monoxide poisoning. (HERALD PHOTO/Kayne Pyatt)

EVANSTON — Representatives from Dominion Energy paid a second visit to Evanston’s City Council at the work session on March 22, asking once again that the council pass an ordinance requiring certification for anyone installing gas appliances in the city of Evanston. 

Jeff Bybee and Rick Mair with Dominion Energy and the Rocky Mountain Gas Association (RMGA) were present, along with Tim Ridenour with Tom’s H-Vac, who is an RMGA board member. Also attending to present information concerning the request were Evanston’s city inspector Bob Liechty, fire marshall Tim Overy and fire chief Don Bodine.

Bybee reminded the council of their former visit and said there had been an unfortunate event locally that motivated him and Mair to return to the council. He then asked Overy to report on the recent event, where an improperly installed heating ventilation system almost cost the lives of two Evanston residents.

“This past week we were called to a residence on Harrison Drive and found an unconscious male in the basement and his wife upstairs, both suffering what was obviously carbon monoxide poisoning,” Overy said. “Two police officers were able to remove them from the home. They were taken to Utah, where they were placed in a hyperbaric chamber to reverse the effects of carbon monoxide poisoning.”

Overy said they had communicated with Dominion Energy to try to determine the main problem. He said they were not trying to find fault, but the malfunction was definitely a problem with the installation of the heater, and they did not have any information yet on who had installed it. The house had just been purchased, and this was the couple’s first night in the home. The house had been upgraded with a new water heater, but there was no return air vent, which had either been eliminated or blocked. 

The heater was a 1962 model, Overy said, and the return air duct was placed in the same room as the heater, which is not recommended. The man was in the basement, where the heater was located. The basement was originally a garage and had been converted into living space.

Overy stressed that this problem extends even beyond the risk to homeowners and their families.

“Going into that house to rescue the two people was a danger to the police officers, as well,” Overy said. “They arrived ahead of us and got the two out. As Jeff said, I think this is a time to revisit the certification requirement.”

Bybee added that this event shows how badly the city needs the certification process. He said there is no cost or administration burden to the city, as RMGA tracks everything and the city inspector would ask for proof of certification at the time of home inspection. The RMGA website lists all certified installers who have taken their training. 

Evanston City Attorney Dennis Boal suggested that the ordinance may have to contain municipal court fines for lack of certification. He asked Bybee to send him a copy of a Utah ordinance. 

Mayor Kent Williams said he thinks it is worth looking into. Bybee said a certification ordinance would help to force out unscrupulous installers.

Councilman Mike Sellers said, “We don’t want to be viewed as regulating competition. My concern is that people will block vents and install things wrong themselves because they don’t understand the danger.”

Liechty, the building inspector, said the owner of the home where the recent carbon monoxide poisoning occurred had no idea anything was wrong with the heater or the vents.

Bybee said anyone can buy a business license and still not know what they are doing, and anyone working with a fuel-burning appliance needs to be certified.

“When I got insurance for my business, they wanted to see my certification,” Ridenour said.

Sellers, a local landlord, said he has to take photos of all duct work, vents and heating appliances in his properties in order to get insurance.

“Right now, installers don’t have to do anything to get a license,” Bybee said. “Half of Rocky Mountain Power’s reputation is based on what Ridenour does, what other installers do, and what Liechty does. We want to protect our customers, so we need RMGA-certified installers.”

Uinta County Clerk Amanda Hutchinson requested the Council consider moving the neighborhood on the south end of Yellow Creek Road before the city boundary ends and on the West side of Yellow Creek Road from Evanston Ward 1 into EvanstonWard 2 to better align with the recent redistricting by the Wyoming Legislature. She said it will reduce the number of ballot splits. Hutchinson said it would be cost-saving and a convenience for voters if the city could change that one ward boundary line.

Williams acknowledged that the change would make the voting areas more user-friendly and wouldn’t be a problem to do but the changes would have to occur before May. The resolution would have to go through three readings before final approval, so the council would have to review it immediately.

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