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Pastor Made Call To Police Leading To Discovery Of Family Suffering CO Poisoning

Father Santilli of St. Phillip Church called EG Police after St. Phillip School Principal Darlene Walsh didn't come in to work last Friday. She, her husband and son are still hospitalized.


It turns out the person responsible for contacting police to check on the Walsh family at 170 Watch Hill Drive last Friday was Father Frank Santilli, pastor at St. Phillip Church in Smithfield, because Darlene Walsh is principal of St. Phillip School and she hadn't shown up for work that day.

Santilli's call likely saved the Walsh family's lives.

Walsh, her husband, and son remain hospitalized after suffering carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning at while inside the house Friday morning. The three were found after police broke down the door at about 11 a.m. All three were suffering from disorientation, vomiting, respiratory problems and lethargy. EG Rescue and West Warwick rescue took them to Kent Hospital.

"Everyone is prayerful and hopeful and going about their business hoping that she's going to be OK," said Santilli. He said they don't have word yet on when Walsh might be able to return to work.

Walsh and her husband, originally admitted to Kent Hospital, were transferred to Rhode Island Hospital. According to an official there, both are in fair condition. Their son remains at Kent, where he is in stable condition, according to the hospital.

On St. Philip School's Facebook page, school officials updated students and parents on the family's condition. "Mr. & Mrs. Walsh have responded well to treatments and are in stable condition. Their son Rick remains in a more serious condition. Their daughter Allison has been a rock in handling this family crisis. Amazingly, their dog Haylie suffered minor effects from the carbon monoxide and is anxiously awaiting her families return home! Please keep your prayers coming!," the update reads.

The East Greenwich Fire Department used a meter to record CO levels in the Walsh home, recording a reading of 800 to 1,000 parts per million in the basement. According to EG Fire Chief Peter Henrikson, 35 parts per million can cause headaches, 100 parts per million can be dangerous.

"I think people are relieved that the outcome wasn't worse," Santilli said.

EG Building Inspector Wayne Pimental said the town's mechanical inspector John Counts has ruled the cause of CO build up in the house was a poorly ventilated furnace. 

"The unit's been taken apart. He's determined that the unit was not getting proper combustion air," Pimental said. "It wasn't getting the fresh air needed for fossil fuel to burn properly."

The furnace was in the basement in a room closed off from the rest of the house, Pimental said. The old furnace is now being removed and a new one will be installed. 

"People need to put in a CO detector," he said. "It's a silent, deadly killer." 

Smithfield Fire Chief Bob Seltzer has warned local readers of the dangers of CO poisoning in his safety blog on Smithfield Patch, and provided tips on avoiding it:

  • Have fuel-burning heating equipment (fireplaces, furnaces, water heaters, wood stoves, coal stoves, space heaters and portable heaters) and chimneys inspected by a professional every year.
  • Open the damper for proper ventilation before using a fireplace.  
  • Make sure all fuel-burning vented equipment is vented to the outside to avoid CO poisoning. Keep the venting for exhaust clear and unblocked.
  • If you need to warm a vehicle, remove it from the garage immediately after starting it. Never run a vehicle or other fueled engine or motor indoors, even if garage doors are open. Make sure the exhaust pipe of a running vehicle is not blocked with snow, ice or other materials. The CO gas might kill people and pets.
  • Make sure vents for the dryer, furnace, stove and fireplace are clear of snow and other debris.  
  • Marie C. Hennedy March 08, 2013 at 11:09 AM
    Thank you, Father Santilli. Marie

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