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Cop saves 2 in toxic gas-filled house

Police investigate a carbon monoxide poisoning at a

Police investigate a carbon monoxide poisoning at a Valley Stream home, Sunday. (March 7, 2010)

The groaning woman was barely able to speak when she opened the door for Nassau Police Officer Michael Frank, the first on the scene Sunday after a 911 call of carbon monoxide poisoning at the Valley Stream home.

"My son," said the woman, Denise Morris, on her knees, her voice trailing off. Her eyes rolled up and she passed out.

Frank rushed upstairs and found the 8-year-old curled up in the middle of a bedroom floor as if he were sleeping. The child didn't respond to Frank's questions, so the officer gathered the boy in his arms and ran outside.

In a few minutes, to Frank's relief, the boy was conscious again and breathing in fresh air, as was his mother.

"It felt good. It was very satisfying," Frank, a 24-year veteran of the police force, said Sunday, a few hours after the rescue.

Authorities said Morris and her son were poisoned by a gasoline-powered generator set up in the basement after the home's power was shut off by LIPA recently.

A spokesman for LIPA said power at the house was shut off Thursday because bills had not been paid since September. "Furthermore, the customer was nonresponsive to all our communications until we terminated service," said LIPA's Mark Gross in a statement Sunday.

Morris, 39, was treated and released from Nassau University Medical Center, said hospital spokeswoman Shelley Lotenberg. Her son, who was not identified, was admitted to the hospital Sunday and was in "satisfactory condition," Lotenberg said.

Pedro Vera, chief of the Elmont Fire Department, said firefighters found carbon monoxide levels of between 80 and 680 parts per million, dangerously higher than the safe levels of 35 parts per million or less.

"They were at a critical level of carbon monoxide in the house," Vera said.

The generator was connected to the home's electrical panel, Vera said. It was unclear how long the generator had been running or who set it up, authorities said.

Morris and her son were treated in the hospital's hyperbaric chamber, a sealed room into which pure oxygen is pumped, authorities said.

Nassau police spokesman Lt. Kevin Smith said Fifth Precinct detectives were investigating but charges were unlikely.

"You never put a gasoline-powered engine inside of a home," Smith said. "I think it's one of those things that something foolish was done and someone should have thought better of it, but it may not be criminal."

Morris - who, according to neighbors and real estate records, owns the home - called 911 around 7:35 a.m. and said her son may be sick, authorities said. When Frank arrived, there was an "overwhelming" smell in the house, he said.

It's likely the gasoline-powered generator sent other toxic gases into the home, authorities said, because carbon monoxide normally has no odor by itself.

No one answered the door Sunday on Putney Road, where the Town of Hempstead Building Department had placed a notice of violation stating the home was "unfit for human occupation."

Town spokesman Mike Deery said Morris will probably need to have the power reconnected to her home before she is allowed to move back in.

How to protect your family


Carbon monoxide, a colorless, odorless gas, can be deadly. A common cause of carbon monoxide poisoning is faulty home heating equipment, authorities said.

GENERATORS. Never use gasoline-powered ones indoors.

CHIMNEYS. Cleanings at least once every two years, more often if it's older. Visual inspection annually.

OTHER SOURCES. Never use kerosene heater or open stove to warm home.

DETECTION. Have working carbon monoxide detectors? Test once a month. Change batteries every six months; know what the alarms mean.

CALL A PRO. Get your heating equipment checked at beginning of each winter.

- Michael Amon

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