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Man identified in carbon monoxide poisoning death that sickened wife, responders

PERHAM, Minn. -- A rural Vergas man died and several others, including emergency response personnel, were hospitalized as a result of carbon monoxide poisoning at a home early Monday night, Dec. 19, authorities said.

A faulty furnace vent likely caused the buildup of carbon monoxide in the garage, which killed Tom Elkin, a cabinet maker, authorities said. Elkin’s identity was released Tuesday afternoon by a family friend.

“It appears he was doing work on the furnace and may not have had the (safety) equipment installed,” said Lt. Keith Van Dyke of the Otter Tail County Sheriff’s Office, “though we have no way to know for sure.”

Elkin was overcome by the poisonous gas and was found by his wife, who called 911, Van Dyke said.

“When firefighters, law enforcement and EMS arrived, the deceased’s wife began to show signs of suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning,” Van Dyke said, “and so did the emergency workers. High levels of carbon monoxide were detected and they realized they had a problem, and got out of the house.”

Eight people, including three Perham Area EMS employees, were taken to Perham Health at about 7 p.m. Monday with symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning. Two EMS workers and the wife were airlifted to Hennepin County Medical Center.

Van Dyke said everyone who was taken in for treatment was recovering and several of the victims had been released.

Hennepin County Medical Center is equipped with a hyperbaric chamber, which is needed to treat patients with carbon monoxide poisoning, according to the news release.

Several regional emergency flight services responded to the incident with medical helicopters and fixed wing aircraft, including Sanford Air Care of Fargo, Valley Med Flight of Grand Forks and North Memorial of Brainerd and Bemidji, Minn.

"Our hearts go out to our first responders and their families," stated Perham Health CEO Chuck Hofius in the release. "Each time EMS personnel go on a call, we know there is risk and worry for their safety. I am so proud of everyone at Perham Health, from the EMS crew on the scene to the staff in the emergency department who responded so quickly, to the many other employees that came in from home to help. They did an incredible job in a very scary situation."

Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless gas that can be fatal. It is found in fumes produced when fuel is burned in cars, trucks, small engines, stoves, lanterns, grills, fireplaces, gas ranges, or furnaces, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It can build up in enclosed areas, poisoning people and animals who breathe it in.

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