SAINT JOHN, N.B. – A woman says her public housing unit in New Brunswick no longer feels like home after her daughter, sister and their caretaker were released from hospital having suffered carbon monoxide poisoning.
Jessica Sypher said the two girls and a family friend were sent to hospital in critical condition after a carbon monoxide leak at her home in Saint John, N.B. on Friday night.
Sypher, 21, said she and her mother had left her four-year-old daughter and 11-year-old sister with friend Kenneth Naves, whom the children call “papa.”
Sypher said they returned home, and having left her key inside, she knocked on the door for Naves to let her in.
When there was no answer, she said she knocked again, louder, and peered through the window to see the 53-year-old man stumbling in the stairway.
“He was kind of shaken, and he said, ‘I don’t know what to do,'” Sypher said in an interview on Monday. “I thought he was going to faint, so I told him to sit down … and it almost looked like he was choking to death.”
Panicked, Sypher said she called 911 as she and her mother tried to kick down the doors.
Having heard them screaming, her neighbour came down to deliver the decisive blows, she said, and they burst into their home to find both girls unconscious.
She said she heard an alarm beeping in the background, but she couldn’t pinpoint what the threat was.
“It almost sounded like a battery dying, like for a smoke detector,” she said.
She said she grabbed her daughter off the couch and ran out of the house, while emergency workers arrived on scene to rescue Naves and her sister.
About 30 residents were evacuated from the complex, said a platoon chief with the Saint John fire department. Authorities were so concerned about the carbon monoxide levels that two of Sypher’s neighbours were sent to a local hospital for evaluation, but were later released.
Sypher said her loved ones were rushed to a Saint John hospital in critical condition and later airlifted to a Halifax hospital, where they were treated in hyperbaric chambers to replenish their oxygen levels.
“(I felt) scared, terrified,” she said. “It’s a lot to all take in at once.”
They were released from hospital on Sunday and returned to Saint John, and while Sypher is grateful that everyone seems to be fine, she said she can’t seem to shake the lingering feeling of danger inside her home.
“I’m glad I came home when I did,” she said. “It’s not the same as it was before all this happened.”
The girls have been “traumatized” by the incident, she said, and they’ll never forget it.
Sypher said she feels provincial officials who run the six-unit townhouse complex should be held responsible, saying she doesn’t even own a key to the boiler room below her unit.
The leak is under investigation. New Brunswick government spokesperson Erin Illsley said in an email that displaced residents have returned to the building and the boiler has been replaced.
“I’m relieved that it wasn’t tragic,” Sypher said of the leak. “It could have ended up a lot worse.”
— by Adina Bresge in Halifax