Durham EMS official's concerns launched carbon monoxide investigation at McDougald Terrace, documents show

Thursday, January 2, 2020
EMS official's concerns launched CO probe at McDougald Terrace
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EMS official's concerns launched CO probe at McDougald Terrace

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- Any semblance of holiday spirit quickly wore off as frustrated residents berated officials with the Durham Housing Authority on Thursday about recent carbon monoxide leaks and subsequent inspections.

"It shouldn't have taken all of this for you all to want to help us," one woman said at a podium. "I mean we live in the projects, but we're human too. Y'all could've came and helped us a long time ago."

The Durham Housing Authority, Durham EMS and Durham Fire Department jointly called for Thursday's community meeting at Burton Magnet Elementary School. Officials there hoped to calm some nerves after a series of carbon monoxide poisonings sent seven patients to the hospital, including a one-year-old child.

Emails obtained by ABC11 show communications between fire officials as early as Christmas Day when Durham EMS Assistant Chief began to contact colleagues about the recent poisonings. The next day, December 26, Chief Robert Zoldos organized a conference call with several stakeholders to discuss the "history and scope of problem" and the "development of a Task Force concept for inspection, remediation and education."

Those inspections would begin Friday morning as crews visited 150 units and ended up treating two more patients for potential CO exposure, including another child.

"It scared me," Resident Carolyn Mitchell, whose apartment was found to have had high levels of CO, told ABC11. "I hadn't picked up on it, but I noticed I was very sleepy."

More internal memos reviewed by ABC11 showed a busy three days for fire and EMS crews: 196 units inspected and 453 smoke and carbon monoxide alarms installed.

"I believe it is imperative to reiterate the importance of CO alarms in the homes of McDougald Terrace," Fire Chief Robert Zoldos wrote in a Dec. 31 letter to DHA CEO Anthony Scott. "A properly installed and operating CO alarm provides for constant monitoring of the space and can be that extremely important early warning for a slow-developing CO issue."

The Durham Housing Authority, funded primarily through federal grants, manages nearly a dozen properties and around 1,600 units dedicated to affordable housing. McDougald Terrace is the biggest property with 360 units and it's also among the oldest; built in 1954, the property was originally built exclusively for African-Americans while a separate public housing project, Few Gardens, was reserved for whites.