London Fire Brigade

Carbon monoxide alarm saves six lives after waking residents in Islington

19 September 2016

A woman whose life was saved by a carbon monoxide alarm is urging people to ensure they have the detectors fitted in their homes.

The call from Islington resident Sophie Rigney comes in Gas Safety Week after she learnt first hand how vital the life-saving devices are.

Dr Rigney said: “Carbon monoxide alarms are absolutely live saving and if it was not for ours, there would be six people dead.”

London Fire Brigade is also urging people not to become a victim of the silent killer and make sure they have working carbon monoxide alarms fitted in any room that contains gas or solid fuel burning equipment.

Over the last five years, London firefighters have attended a 26 per cent increase in carbon monoxide incidents. Last year fire crews were called to 413 incidents relating to carbon monoxide, compared to 304 in 2011.

Between 2011 and 2015, the Brigade attended a total of 1,885 carbon monoxide call outs and sadly 10 people lost their lives.

Life-saving alarm

Firefighters were called to Dr Rigney’s flat at about 1am on Tuesday, 6 September after she and three friends were woken up by an alarm sounding in her flat. She investigated and discovered the sound was coming from the carbon monoxide alarm in her flat’s kitchen.

The four people in the flat decided to evacuate with their French Bulldog, alerted residents in neighbouring flats and then called the Brigade

Crews tested the levels of carbon monoxide in the flat where the alarm sounded. Dr Rigney said despite the gas being switched off in her flat, the carbon monoxide levels continued to increase and it was discovered the gas was coming from the restaurant beneath the property.

Firefighters forced entry into the restaurant and discovered coals had been left burning overnight.

Dr Rigney said: “It is very clear that if it hadn’t have been for the carbon monoxide alarm, we would all be dead. We were all pretty much in shock for the rest of the night. We were scared that if there had been a fire or someone had dropped a cigarette that the whole building could have gone up.”

Dr Sophie Rigney

In the days before the alarm sounded, Dr Rigney said she had experienced extreme fatigue, dizziness and a metallic taste in her mouth - symptoms which she later discovered were linked to carbon monoxide poisoning.

She added: “I would urge people to always make sure their carbon monoxide alarms are functioning and make sure they have a battery in. I had never heard of them before I came to the UK from Australia but I am so grateful for those alarms now.”

Dr Rigney said her flat, rented from a private landlord, was fitted with the carbon monoxide alarm when she moved in earlier this year. 

Silent killer

Mark Hazelton, the Brigade’s Group Manager for Community Safety, said: “We are really grateful to Dr Rigney coming forward to tell her story and we hope it will help save the lives of other people in London.

“Carbon monoxide is a silent killer, with least 50 deaths nationally recorded every year as a result of carbon monoxide poisoning. Despite this, the majority of people still do not have a carbon monoxide detector in their home.

“Without this alarm, there may have been a very different and potentially fatal outcome in this instance. It is vital that everyone has a carbon monoxide alarm in addition to smoke alarms.”

Throughout Gas Safety Week, which runs from September 19 – 25, firefighters will be highlighting the risks of carbon monoxide poisoning during home fire safety visits and will be encouraging people to have working carbon monoxide alarms fitted in their homes.

The Brigade provides free smoke alarms and carbon monoxide alarms for private rental properties. From October 2015, landlord are bound by law to install one smoke alarm on each storey of a rental property, install one carbon monoxide alarm in any room that contains a solid fuel burning appliance and test each alarm at the beginning of the tenancy. 

To apply for a free smoke alarms and carbon monoxide alarms, click here.