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Preventable tragedy: CO poisoning in ice houses

Jan. 30, 2017

No parent should ever have to lose a child. But when that child dies in a preventable manner, it’s especially heartbreaking. Just ask Denice Johnson: Her son Jared died Jan. 17, 2016, of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning while ice fishing. It was the worst day of her life, and she doesn’t want anyone ever to have to go through the pain and heartache she and her family are experiencing.

Denice Johnson holds a picture of her son Jared and a carbon monoxide detector.

Photo: Denice doesn’t want anyone to lose a loved one the way she lost her son Jared. A carbon monoxide alarm might have prevented the tragedy.​

An avid outdoorsman, firefighter, and father of two, Jared was 34 years old when he died. He was fishing with friends in an ice house converted from a camper, and officials think their heat sources weren’t properly ventilated. That would have caused a deadly buildup of CO, which is an odorless and colorless gas.

Dr. Christopher Logue of Hennepin County Medical Center says CO is the leading cause of accidental poisoning deaths worldwide. It kills one to two people a year in ice fishing houses here in Minnesota. When you breathe in CO, you’re likely to feel symptoms like headache, nausea, dizziness. It can also make you light-headed and short of breath.

So how can you avoid Jared’s fate? Denice begs ice anglers to bring a battery-operated CO alarm (along with spare fresh batteries), and to use only heat sources that are approved for indoor use. Heaters that are rated for outdoor use don’t have the necessary safety features to protect you from CO poisoning. If your ice house has a built-in heating system, walk around the house periodically to make sure the vents don’t get covered by snow or ice. If you use your own heater, keep a window open just to be safe.

CO levels are considered dangerous starting at 70 parts per million – that’s when a CO alarm would sound. And as long as you’re getting one for your ice house, pick up a couple for your home as well. You can find them at any hardware store, and it’s an easy, inexpensive way to prevent a tragedy.

Denice says, “This has destroyed his dad. It’s broken me. It’s a really tough thing and it’s an easy and not-too-expensive fix. And I would hope that anyone who sees this, anyone who knows of Jared’s death, of anyone else’s death, I would hate to see this happen to any family because it’s not necessary. It never needs to happen.”

So on your next ice fishing trip, grab your gear and have fun – but make sure you have a CO alarm and the proper type of heater. That way it won’t be your last.