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Throwback Thursday: Winona woman dies, 4 overcome, when soot plugged chimney fills house with gas
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Throwback Thursday: Winona woman dies, 4 overcome, when soot plugged chimney fills house with gas

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Winona police chief, George Savord. Appointed chief of police in 1950 at age 31, he was the youngest chief in the department's history. He left Winona in 1966 to head up the Cypress, California police department. He died Dec. 29, 2017, three days shy of his 89th birthday.

This story originally appeared on Jan. 27, 1961, in the Winona Daily News.

A fast-acting milkman and some small green oxygen bottles were credited with saving the lives of four Winona residents who were overcome with carbon monoxide gas this morning. A fifth occupant of the house in which they lived apparently died before rescuers reached her.

Mrs. A.R. Taylor, about 65, who lived at 101 E. Broadway with her son, John V. Taylor, and his family, was pronounced, dead on arrival at Winona General Hospital.

Saved were Taylor, his son John Jr., 9, his daughter Jane, 7, and Miss Dorothy Hoffman, who lives in an apartment upstairs. Taylor is in critical condition, the others are good. All but Taylor had regained consciousness by 9:30 a.m.

The children were taken off oxygen after a few hours and then had a bottle of pop. Miss Hoffman was taken off oxygen about noon. They might be released Saturday. Miss Hoffman is a teacher at Washington-Kosciusko School.

All were overcome by carbon monoxide fumes, according to Chief of Police George Savord. There were indications that they had been unconscious most of the night.

He said that the deadly fumes apparently came from waste fumes which were discharged into the house when the chimney became plugged with soot.

The natural gas-fired water heater and boiler are near the chimney. The flue from the water heater enters the larger flue from the boiler before the larger flue goes into the chimney at about eye level.

Savord said that soot had accumulated in the chimney to a height so that the flue opening was completely or virtually sealed off.

Savord said that some of the soot in the chimney may have been jarred loose when the furnace was converted from coal to gas. However, that was at least prior to September.

There is no clean-out door at the bottom of the chimney.

Taylor’s wife, 36, was hospitalized Thursday after she fainted in the house. She told hospital authorities that she had been suffering “terrific” headaches for the past couple of days.

Her physician concluded today that she had been asphyxiated.

About 6:30 a.m. today, the milkman, Brad Baumann, 4020 Fifth St., Goodview, making his regular rounds, stopped at the big, yellow house on Broadway and went inside the back door to leave the day’s order of milk.

Baumann told police he noticed an odor, which he thought was gas. He went inside and found John Jr. lying on the living room floor. Baumann said he tried to awaken the boy. When this failed Baumann laid the boy on the couch. Then he found Taylor and daughter Jane in bed, also downstairs. They were unconscious.

After opening some windows, as he reported it, shutting off the oven of the gas kitchen range, Baumann dashed to the police station a block and a half away. There he met Patrolman Joseph Bronk, who was just coming into the station in a squad car. It was now 6:40 a.m.

Bronk and Sgt. Sylvan Duellman accompanied Baumann to the Taylor residence. On the way, they radioed for another car and the two cars arrived at the house almost simultaneously.

The officers found the downstairs just as Baumann had left it. They reported that Taylor and the children were all overcome by fumes in the house. There was a strong toxic odor present.

After forcing a locked upstairs door in the northwest corner of the house, police found Miss Hoffman lying on the floor, overcome by the fumes.

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Taylor’s mother was found in her bed in a southeast corner bedroom, apparently dead.

Officers rushed the children to Winona General Hospital in a squad car. On the. way they administered oxygen from portable, seven-gallon oxygen bottles carried as standard equipment in the cars.

Chief of Police George H. Savord said the boy’s lips were blue and his tongue was coated white when they found him. Savord said both children responded to the oxygen immediately.

Four more squad cars were dispatched to the house so that their portable oxygen bottles could be utilized. Oxygen was administered to Taylor and Miss Hoffman and they were taken to the hospital in an ambulance. It was necessary to give Taylor oxygen through a nostril because his jaws were locked, police said.

Mrs. Taylor was taken to the hospital last, Savord said, because she was apparently dead. Winona County Coroner Dr. Robert Tweedy pronounced her dead on arrival.

Miss Hoffman’s mother, Mrs. Dora J. Hoffman, 81, also lives upstairs in the house. She was not present because she had been admitted to the hospital Wednesday. Her doctor said she was hospitalized for a condition which is not connected to the carbon monoxide poisoning.

The victims were found in widely separated portions of the large house. Mrs. Taylor’s bedroom is in the extreme back corner of the east side of the structure and Miss Hoffman was on the floor of an upstairs room at the front of the west side. Taylor and Jane were in a room at the center of the east side, downstairs, and John Jr. was in a corresponding position on the west side.

The chimney from where the fumes apparently started was located in the basement near the center of the house.

Police summoned the fire department and Northern States Power Co. officials because of the apparent fumes. At about 7:0 p.m., according to Savord, Max Loesch, 617 W, 4th St., an NSP foreman, and Arthur Wedge, 1062 Gilmore Ave., and Michael Rompa, 612 W. 4th St., employees, tested the house with a combustible gas indicator. They determined that there were no gas fumes in the home and that no gas was escaping from any appliance.

Savord reported that shortly thereafter, T.W. Smeed, 108 E. Broadway, NSP gas superintendent, utilizing a carbon monoxide indicator, discovered the presence of carbon monoxide.

Savord said the fire department and NSP personnel who investigated determined that the presence of carbon monoxide was apparently caused by the blocked vent on the hot water heater. Savord stressed the word “apparently” and said his department, NSP, the fire department and George Jessen, city gas inspector, would continue investigating today to determine the “definite” cause.

The vent from the hot water heater leads to a big pipe which runs from the furnace to the chimney. Investigation showed that the big pipe was blocked by scale, soot and dirt at the point where it enters the chimney. It can be cleaned only by disconnecting it from the chimney.

This blockage apparently caused the waste fumes from the hot water heater to seep through the bouse rather than go out the chimney. These fumes are predominantly carbon monoxide.

Savord said Dr. Tweedy told him the heavy, toxic odor in the house was evidently caused from incompletely burned gas. He said the gas from the hot water heater, although ignited, could not burn completely due to lack of oxygen caused by the carbon monoxide present. The odor of this gas was carried through the house.

Bits of evidence indicated that the occupants may have been unconscious all night, police said. Thursday night’s Daily News was still lying folded outside the front door. The boy was fully clothed in trousers and a long-sleeved shirt. Miss Hoffman’s bathtub was full and the water had cooled to room temperature.

The illness of Taylor’s wife also led investigators to believe that the carbon monoxide had been accumulating for at least a couple of days. Also, the Taylor children had not been feeling well and John Jr. was sent home from Central Elementary School Thursday afternoon suffering from nausea.

Savord credited the portable, oxygen bottles with saving the lives of the Taylors and Miss Hoffman. Four of the disposable bottles, which hold seven gallons of pure oxygen, were used in this morning’s emergency.

These bottles became standard equipment in all Winona police cars just one year and two days ago. Savord says they cost the city $5.65 apiece and added, “We feel we have justified this expense this morning.”

Savord said the bottles have been used to revive heart attack and asphyxiation victims and to treat a case of hysteria. A total of six have been used during the year, including the four this morning.

Police called the fire department at 7:00 a.m. and they were removing the last victim from the house when firemen arrived with their resuscitator equipment.

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