As Airdrie RCMP concluded its investigation into a fatal carbon monoxide leak Feb. 4 at 700 Willowbrook Road, crews from the Airdrie Fire Department were dispatched to attend to another CO incident Feb. 9 – at the same apartment complex.
The incident Feb. 4, which led to the death of 12-year-old Trai Schlichter, was determined to be non-criminal in nature, according to a press release issued by Airdrie RCMP. An investigation conducted by Airdrie RCMP, Airdrie Fire Department, ATCO Gas, and the City of Airdrie Plumbing and Gas Inspectors concluded an on-demand water heater was not ventilating properly, leading to a build-up of CO gas in the family’s apartment.
According to the victim’s mother, Elysha Schlichter, issues with the water heater had been brought to the property owner’s attention prior to the CO incident.
“Our landlord brought a plumber in who said he fixed it, but didn’t make us aware that the pipe that was broken was leaking carbon monoxide,” she said at a press conference held by the family Feb. 7. “We didn’t know that this pipe can come apart easily in bad weather conditions below 20 (degrees).”
Some residents at the apartment complex were faced with another evacuation Feb. 9 – the third CO incident the building has experienced since 2014. According to Airdrie Fire Department Deputy Chief Garth Rabel, firefighters responded to a call at 12:14 a.m. from a different unit at 700 Willowbrook Road.
“In this case, the carbon monoxide detector that was in the apartment was one that was gifted by the City of Airdrie and the fire department after Sunday’s tragic incident,” Rabel said. “Many of the residents didn’t have carbon monoxide detectors, and this one did exactly what it was supposed to do – it monitored issues and raised the alarm.”
When firefighters arrived on scene, Rabel said initial air monitor readings revealed elevated levels of CO within the immediate area of the apartment, approximately 70 parts per million (PPM). Potentially adverse health impacts may occur at levels of 12 to 20 PPM.
“Not knowing what the cause was, they evacuated the north side of the building, but evacuees were able to stay safely on-site,” Rabel said. “Then, the crew went into the apartment in question and isolated the cause to poor ventilation from the gas appliance.”
Crews ventilated the area until readings were back to zero and deemed safe to move residents back in, Rabel said. The entire operation took approximately two-and-a-half hours.
While Rabel said the exact cause of the incident remains unknown at this time, the fire department recommends the owners of individual apartments within the complex have a certified and qualified service technician thoroughly inspect not only the gas appliances, but their ventilation systems, as well.
“When we do get these very cold spikes like we’ve had this year, quite quickly like this, that’s when we start depending on our appliances to kick in and work effectively,” he said. “And when these appliances are ventilated to the exterior of the home, it’s important to ensure those vents are kept clear of snow, ice or other obstructions.”
A candlelight vigil was held in Trai’s honour at Nose Creek Park Feb. 11, where mourners came to pay their respects to the family and remember the young man’s life. Schlichter said the family has seen “amazing” support from the community following their tragic loss.
“People have reached out – people I don’t know or never heard of before expressing their condolences and support,” she said. “It helps so much. It’s a beautiful community.”