Written by Patricia Gay
Thursday, 20 January 2011 10:05
A Weston couple’s efforts to equip the town with carbon monoxide detectors have earned them special recognition from the Connecticut Region of the American Red Cross.
Lou and Maria Dempsey of Tobacco Road have been named Red Cross Heroes for 2011 in the category of community impact, for going above and beyond the call of duty to improve the lives of others.
Assisted by members of the Weston Volunteer Fire Department and Weston Emergency Services, the Dempseys spearheaded an initiative in 2010 to distribute 1,600 carbon monoxide detectors to Weston households.
“On behalf of the Weston Volunteer Fire Department, I congratulate Lou and Maria for making the town of Weston a safer place to live,” said Weston Fire Chief John Pokorny.
A member of the WVFD, Mr. Dempsey started the initiative in response to a carbon monoxide related tragedy that hit close to home.
His wife Maria lost her sister, Caroline Lofgren, Caroline’s husband Parker, and their two young children to carbon monoxide poisoning on Thanksgiving night in 2008.
The Lofgrens were on vacation in Aspen, Colo., when the home they were staying in filled with deadly carbon monoxide fumes from a faulty heating system, killing the family in their sleep. The home was not equipped with a carbon monoxide detector. If it had been, the family most likely would have awakened and been saved.
Carbon monoxide poisoning occurs after the inhalation of carbon monoxide gas (CO). CO occurs when there is incomplete burning of combustible materials such as natural gas, oil, charcoal and wood. CO is colorless, odorless, tasteless, and non-irritating, making it difficult for people to detect. As such, it is called “the silent killer.”
Approximately 1,500 Americans die each year from accidental exposure to carbon monoxide, according to the American Medical Association.
The Dempseys didn’t want other families to suffer as they had and embarked on an ambitious project to outfit every home in America with a carbon monoxide detector — starting with Weston.
To get the project going, Mr. Dempsey organized a committee with public officials, and members from the town’s police and fire departments, and emergency medical services.
The committee designed a program to distribute CO detectors to households that didn’t have them. “It was created as a template or pilot program so other towns throughout the U.S. could adopt it,” Mr. Dempsey said.
Thanks to the committee’s efforts, in 2009 a town ordinance went into effect requiring the installation of a CO detector in every residence in Weston.
Volunteers then began a survey to reach out to the Weston community to see which homes were equipped with CO detectors and which homes needed them.
To get the word out, they sent letters and e-mails, put notices in The Weston Forum, went to soccer and baseball games, and even set up an information table at the town’s polling place on Election Day.
After compiling a list of homes without detectors, the committee worked closely with a manufacturer and acquired 1,600 CO detectors that they distributed to households that needed them.
“We got a 65% response rate to our survey of Weston homeowners, which I understand is very good. I trust that homeowners that didn’t respond already had detectors,” Mr. Dempsey said.
In recognition of his efforts to provide CO detectors to the Weston community, Mr. Dempsey was given the fire department’s President’s Award in September.
A modest man, Mr. Dempsey said the initiative never would have gotten off the ground had it not been for the efforts of many others who helped.
“This wouldn’t have happened had it not been for volunteers from the fire department and EMS, and the citizens who helped us out, especially at the information table on Election Day,” Mr. Dempsey said.
Now he hopes other towns will consider his program as a model to get CO detectors in all homes in their communities.
The Connecticut Region of the American Red Cross is holding a Heroes Breakfast on March 31 at the Trumbull Marriott to honor the Dempseys as well as other 2011 Red Cross Heroes.