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Long Island Tragedy Could Have Been Easily Prevented by a Carbon Monoxide Detector

A blocked flue pipe leaking carbon monoxide at a mall on Long Island killed one person Saturday night February 22nd and sickened more than two dozen, according to the local authorities.

The Suffolk County Police said they responded to an emergency call around 6 p.m. It was regarding a woman who had hit her head and fallen in the basement of Legal Sea Foods at the Walt Whitman Shops in Huntington Station. Police officers, fire crews and medics began feeling nauseous and dizzy soon after arriving and recognized it as carbon monoxide poisoning.

Andrea Golinsky, a spokeswoman for the Huntington Community First Aid Squad, reported that the ambulance teams found the woman and a man, who were both restaurant employees, in the basement overcome by the gas. They were taken to the hospital in critical condition. The man was pronounced dead on arrival to the Huntington Hospital. It was reported that he died of a heart attack.

The man was identified as Steven Nelson, 55, of Copiague, the general manager of the Legal Sea Foods restaurant. 

According to the officials the Suffolk County police officers who responded to the emergency call and four first aid volunteers were among 27 other people taken to five area hospitals with non-life-threatening injuries. Most of the patients were released by early Sunday.

Huntington fire investigators identified on Sunday that the carbon monoxide poisoning was caused by a leaky flue pipe for a water heater in the restaurant's basement. A summons was issued to the business by the City officials for having faulty equipment.

Carbon monoxide detectors are required by New York law only to be present in homes and businesses where people sleep like hotels. Roger Berkowitz, the CEO of Legal Sea Foods was on the scene on Sunday and vowed to make sure that detectors would be installed in all of the chain’s restaurants.

Roger Berkowitz said, “It’s not code in commercial and this is a terrible wake up call”.

It was stated by the fire marshal that the restaurant was due for an annual inspection in March and that the heating system would have been examined.

If the restaurant had had carbon conoxide detectors installed then the accident would have had very different end results. The City Councilman James Vacca has sponsored a bill that would add the requirement for the restaurants to be equipped with carbon monoxide detectors.

The City Councilman James Vacca strongly supports the new legislation,”We have to rectify this omission.  There is no reason for any business not to have a carbon monoxide detector.  The same dangers that present themselves in private homes, present themselves in bars and in restaurants and places that are similar.”

By coincidence the councilman co-sponsored new legislation a few weeks ago, so he is very passionate about having carbon monoxide detectors inside of bars and restaurants in New York City.

“I don’t know of any bill that focuses on saving lives that does not make sense,” added James Vacca. He said, “I know for a fact that this bill makes sense.  This bill should move and it should move quickly.  We should give it a priority and get it through the committee system here at the council.”

An expert specializing in chemical toxicology & carbon monoxide poisoning, Mark K. Goldstein, Ph.D says, “People should feel safe when they go out to dinner or 

take their family out. When you go to a restaurant you would expect them to have a safe environment an in order to do that they need to have a carbon monoxide detector. Not only in the places  where the people are, but to protect the employees, in the basement, where the appliances are, because if they leak, they were going to get there first, like they did in the case of the Huntington Station Legal Sea Foods restaurant”.