Fire officials say girl saved family’s lives

Derrick Ek

A young girl is being credited with helping save her family from carbon monoxide poisoning Sunday, Dec. 18 in Prattsburgh.

The family members were still being treated at a Syracuse hospital as of last Monday evening.

The incident happened Sunday at Bernard and Joy Mark’s home on Butts Road.

The girl was only 8 or 9 years old, according to Jim Cermak, captain of the Prattsburgh Ambulance Corps. He was among the emergency responders at the scene.

The girl had spent Saturday night at a friend’s house, Cermak said. She called home Sunday and no one answered, so she got a ride home. When she went in the house, she found her father and 13-year-old sister unresponsive, and her mother conscious but barely coherent.

So she left and went to call 911, Cermak said.

“You wouldn’t believe the courage, how strong she was,” Cermak said. “I found her in all the commotion, and walked her over to an ambulance to get her looked at. It was after we had all of her family members out of the house, and she finally broke into tears at that point.”

“I can’t imagine, even at 45 years old, going in and finding my family like that, and being as composed as she was,” Cermak added.

The Marks were taken by ambulance to Ira Davenport Memorial Hospital in Bath and later transferred to Upstate Medical University in Syracuse.

The Marks were treated in a hyperbaric oxygen therapy chamber, Cermak said. The hospital has one of the only such units in the state. It’s also used for SCUBA divers with decompression sickness, or “the bends.”

Bernard Mark and his older daughter were listed in serious condition last Monday evening, according to an Upstate Medical University spokeswoman. They were initially listed in critical condition.

The mother, Joy Mark, was listed in fair condition Monday.

The outcome likely would have been different if the young daughter - Cermak did not give her name - hadn’t found them when she did.

“The longer they would have been exposed to the toxins, the worse it would have been,” Cermak said. “She ultimately saved the entire family’s life. Hopefully, the outcome is good.”

Prattsburgh Fire Chief Ron Putnam, who was also at the scene, concurred.

“It could have been really bad,” Putnam said. “They were pretty much out of it.”

Putnam said the carbon monoxide building was apparently due to a blocked flue from a propane furnace.

Just in the past two months, the Prattsburgh Fire Department has seen 16 cases of carbon monoxide poisoning, Cermak said.

He urged area residents to make sure they get their furnaces inspected regularly, and to be extremely careful about using alternative heat devices, such as portable kerosene heaters, which can emit high levels of carbon monoxide.

Above all, he added, residents should be sure to have a carbon monoxide detector in their homes.