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Carbon monoxide detectors now law

Bill honors girl who died in '04

The 7-year-old daughter of Christine and Mark Garofalo (shown with their son, Ryan, yesterday) died last year after a snowdrift blocked an exhaust vent at their Plymouth house.
The 7-year-old daughter of Christine and Mark Garofalo (shown with their son, Ryan, yesterday) died last year after a snowdrift blocked an exhaust vent at their Plymouth house. (Globe Staff Photo / Michele McDonald)

PLYMOUTH -- At the Plymouth firehouse that responded in January when a 7-year-old girl was found unconscious, overcome by carbon monoxide fumes, Governor Mitt Romney yesterday signed a bill requiring carbon monoxide detectors in most housing.

The legislation -- approved last week with the support of fire officials, local politicians, and the girl's family -- was called ''Nicole's Law" in memory of 7-year-old Nicole Garofalo, who died after a snowdrift blocked an exhaust vent from her family's propane-fired boiler, filling the house with the odorless, colorless, lethal gas.

''We're honored my daughter's name will live on and will be associated with saving lives," said Nicole's father, Mark, who attended the ceremony with his wife, Christine, and 12-year-old son, Ryan, who were at home with Nicole and survived.

Romney, who had a picture of Nicole next to him when he signed the bill and gave the pens he used to the family when he was done, called this ''an extraordinary time in Massachusetts" when ''silent voices have had power." He referred to Nicole and Melanie Powell, the 13-year-old Marshfield girl whose 2003 death at the hands of a drunk driver inspired a tougher drunken driving bill that became law last week.

''This is a very good outcome from a very bad event," said state Senator Therese Murray, who coauthored the legislation.

There were nearly 3,000 carbon monoxide cases reported in Massachusetts in 2003. According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 480 people die from unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning each year. The gas gives little warning without a detector, which costs about $30. Symptoms of poisoning -- nausea, headache, and fatigue -- mimic the flu.

Fire officials stressed yesterday that Nicole's Law would help prevent further tragedies, by requiring working carbon monoxide detectors in all housing in the state that has enclosed parking or equipment such as boilers, furnaces, and hot water heaters powered by gas, coal, oil, or wood.

''It's all-encompassing -- every dwelling unit in the state, from a college dorm . . . to a hotel-motel," said state Fire Marshal Stephen D. Coan. He said the law is also timely: Facing surging fuel costs, many families may be considering alternate forms of heating that could carry carbon monoxide risks.

The law, which is very similar to a smoke detector mandate enacted two decades ago, requires a battery-operated or plug-in detector in most residences by March 31.

Large buildings with multiple units or other special cases, which will be required to install hard-wired detectors, will have until Jan. 1, 2007, to comply.

As with the smoke detector requirement, Nicole's Law will be enforced by local fire departments during home inspections prior to the sale or transfer of property.

''The most important penalty is, you can't sell your home if it doesn't meet the fire code," said Coan.

While the bill overwhelmingly passed the Legislature, it faced opposition from apartment building owners and housing authorities, who were concerned about its expense.

''It's just another burden," said Lenore Monello Schloming, president of the Small Property Owners Association.

She said the legislation distracts from the greater danger from fires, and she added that carbon monoxide detectors sometimes register false-positives, which would increase the number of calls to local fire departments.

But the bill had broad support from fire officials, politicians, and the local Girl Scout troop, which helped distribute free detectors and launch a public education campaign yesterday.

''Nicole Garofalo was a Brownie in Plymouth, and we were looking for something meaningful to do," said troop leader Janet Young.

Kidde, a fire safety product manufacturer, donated 400 carbon monoxide detectors to the town of Plymouth and 300 to the town of Sandwich yesterday.

''Today, we have the opportunity to turn the senseless death of Nicole Garofalo into the wake-up call the little girl never heard," Romney said.

Carolyn Y. Johnson can be reached at

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