Tenants scramble for housing after CO poisoning

The upstairs apartments of this building on Stockbridge Road, now condemned by Great Barrington, are where some tenants were sickened by high levels of carbon monoxide. A deteriorating furnace was the culprit, and firefighters said there were no working carbon monoxide or smoke detectors.

GREAT BARRINGTON — Some of the 14 men displaced Sunday by high levels of carbon monoxide that coursed through several apartments have struggled to find housing after the building was condemned.

Great Barrington police had called the American Red Cross after the incident, but the organization said it could only accommodate those displaced by fire or flood.

That's when people began trying to help the men get temporary housing until they can find a more permanent place to live.

A local business that employs some of the men called Philip McTigue of Construct Inc., which runs transitional housing and other support programs.

But Construct doesn't have emergency shelter, McTigue said, and the waiting list for its housing is long.

He offered to put some of the men up at a local hotel, paid for by Construct, and said they eventually found other places to stay.

But McTigue is concerned, since one man told him he had slept outside Wednesday night and was still looking for a place to go. And McTigue isn't yet sure that all the men have a roof over their heads.

"I'm worried about someone showing up at our doorstop over the weekend," he said.

If that happens, he added, he'll put out some cots.

Five people were hospitalized with carbon monoxide poisoning Sunday after a deteriorating furnace vented directly into the building's basement.

This sent town fire and police to the building on Stockbridge Road to check on other residents, and upon arrival, firefighters found dangerous levels of the odorless gas throughout, and even outside the front door of the building.

Town Fire Chief Charles Burger told The Eagle that the back of the furnace had rotted away, and that there were no working carbon monoxide detectors in the building. He said that, throughout the apartments, there were two old detectors fastened to the ceiling but inoperable. He said it was lucky that the incident didn't happen at night when the men were asleep.

Harry Sano, who owns the building, told The Eagle someone had removed the batteries from the existing detectors.

The town Board of Health condemned the apartments until repairs are made.

And when asked about his plans, Sano said the furnace would be repaired, but that he wasn't sure if he would rent the upstairs apartments again.

When asked whether he or his insurance would pay to temporarily house his former tenants, he said he has been struggling to get information from his insurance company, which he would not identify.

Sano said that all the former tenants have gone to stay with friends or relatives.

But McTigue said this is unclear, and that some might still be struggling.

"These guys are scrambling just to keep warm," he said. "Everybody is just doubling up, and they were living like that to begin with."

Sano said his tenants were all men, that there were no families living in the apartments.

Wonderful Things, Sano's yarn and gift shop, is on the first floor of the building. Four apartments are on the second and third floors.

Sano said there isn't a health risk from being in the store, and that it is open, even with the furnace running.

"We're fine and great," he said, noting that it was only the apartments that were deemed uninhabitable.

McTigue said Burger was worried enough about the men, as winter bears down, to offer to chip in his own money to help put them up.

McTigue also said he had spoken to someone at the Red Cross who said the organization also does not get involved when there are landlord issues.

A call to the Western Massachusetts Chapter of the Red Cross was not returned.

"If we had room, it would be a no-brainer," he added. "We used to get funding to put people up in emergencies, but that didn't come through this year."

Kristin Palpini contributed to this story.

Heather Bellow can be reached at 413-329-6871, hbellow@berkshireeagle.com or @BE_hbellow.