New details shed light on “Mr. Heater” death

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By Russ and Tiña De Maris

The tragic story of a Kennewick, Washington, man, David Dana, who lost his life in early December due to carbon monoxide poisoning, drew plenty of attention from our readers. Last week we posted a piece regarding Dana’s death, and since have had plenty of feedback.

In our original story, we mentioned that first responders to Dana’s van, where the incident happened, reported that Dana had been using a Mr. Heater-brand appliance. At the time, Enerco Group, Inc., the manufacturer of Mr. Heater, wasn’t providing a comment on the incident.

This week we heard from Enerco’s president, Jeff Bush. Bush told us that as soon as the company learned of Dana’s death, it formed a team to investigate and understand what happened – and what, if anything, could be done to prevent such a tragic event from happening again. Regarding the company’s initial reluctance to comment, Bush explained, “Always better to deal with facts, than start talking first without the facts.” And facts we now have, which fill in a lot of the missing gaps in the story.

Kennewick Fire photo

First, and perhaps most importantly to many of you who contacted us, David Dana was indeed using a Mr. Heater-brand appliance. However, it was not a “Buddy” heater, but, rather, a unit designed and specifically designated for outdoor use. Dana’s unit was what some call a “parabolic” or “sunflower” outdoor-use-only heater. That fact alone made Dana’s situation perilous, but a chain of other factors could easily have contributed to the danger that Dana was exposed to.

Kennewick city officials have provided photos showing the equipment as they found it. Enerco’s team went over them closely and found several issues. First, someone removed all the factory-provided guards from the front and back of the heater. The discoloration on the grid screen assembly in the shape of a circle suggests to the Enerco team that the user may have been putting something directly on the burner surface. That fits with the observations of first responders who said it appeared Dana was trying to cook on the heater. But in so doing, the result could easily be a quenching of the burner flame and an interference with the burner’s access to secondary air. All of that could have significantly increased potential carbon monoxide production.

Next, Enerco’s team found that someone had removed the thermocouple safety system. While that wouldn’t have contributed to carbon monoxide poisoning, anyone using the heater was exposing themselves to another danger: a potential LP explosion, as the thermocouple system automatically shuts off propane if the burner were to be blown out for any reason.

Other issues uncovered included modifications to the safety shut-off system. Notice the black tape wrapped around it, rendering it useless. As well, the shut-off button was taped in and used as a stand against the tank itself. Further, the connection between the air intake tube and control valve was loosened so the entire burner assembly could be rotated to pointing up when attached to the propane cylinder, as opposed to the factory set face-out position.

One other issue which may have contributed to a fatal build-up of carbon monoxide is how gas flow to the burner was adjusted. It appears to Enerco that the propane cylinder valve was used to control the flow of LP. If that was the case, adjusting the flow down would have made for extremely dirty combustion and, as a result, high amounts of carbon monoxide being released into the environment.

As accident investigators noted, David Dana was using this lash-up inside a closed-up van. It is also believed that Mr. Dana may have added additional insulation to the van, in which he was living at the time of the incident. There was likely very little air exchange in the van at the time of the incident. With all of these factors taken together, it’s hard to imagine how anything other than the tragedy resulted. An outside-only heater, modified and used in a tightly sealed small enclosure created a very dangerous situation and directly lead to this unfortunate situation.

In fairness to Enerco, it doesn’t look like much could have been done on their part of have saved Mr. Dana. The company includes safety information with all of its products, and likewise posts that information on the internet. The fact that carbon monoxide deaths have happened in the past led the company to the development of their “Buddy Heater” line of indoor-outdoor-approved-use heaters. The safety features included in the “Buddy” lineup include a tip-switch that shuts off the heater if moved away from strictly upright. An oxygen depletion sensor (ODS) system checks the oxygen level of the air around the heater and shuts it off if the level becomes too low for human safety.

In addition to these physical devices, the company likewise aims to educate users to keep even these inherently safe heaters safe. As we mentioned in our last story on this subject, there needs to be sufficient outside air available when using any non-vented heating appliance, and Enerco stresses NEVER using third-party add-ons, as these might endanger users. And, as we likewise mentioned, the company cautions against – prohibits – use of their heaters to cook or warm food. And while most of our readers are using ventless heaters inside fairly roomy RVs, don’t ever sleep next to a heater of any sort. Rolling over and catching your bedding on fire isn’t something pleasant to consider.

Finally, we repeat for the umpteenth time: Invest in a carbon monoxide detector, keep the batteries fresh, and don’t go beyond the unit’s replacement date. Following a few simple rules can keep you warm – and alive.

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65 Comments
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JOHN
8 months ago

I’m sorry it sounds calloused but it’s called thinning out the gene pool. It’s a shame there are several tags on theses appliances that tell you the dangers. When you don’t follow the rules there are consequences

Billy Bob Thorton
8 months ago

Oh, it’s better than that. Shisters will be swarming all over on this one.

Their tact is this, bring huge notoriety to this event, file a humongous dollar value suit, then settle before trial. Taking 1/3 plus expenses. Because the litigation costs, would be more than settling. The shister sends his kid to Harvard, and we pay an increase purchase price, because the company has to recoup the litigation expense.

So, the moral of the story here is; why are there so many funny lawyer jokes, because those scum bags deserve it. Change the law to “loser pays”, like most of the free world countries, outside of the United States, and a vast amount of BS law suits will never be filed.

This can’t happen because most of the legislators who write law are lawyers by education. Contemplate that for a while!

Jiggity Jig
9 months ago

Meth lab.

John Koenig
9 months ago

What’s that old saying?

Ya CAN’T fix stupid.

At least Mr Dana only killed himself and, didn’t take any innocent others with him.

As for it being a possible suicide, if Mr Dana did NOT leave a note, I doubt we’ll ever know if that had been his intention.

Logan
6 months ago
Reply to  John Koenig

He killed his innocent dog.

Dave
9 months ago

Why are people still using these heaters ???? For the same price you can buy a vented diesel air heater on eBay or Amazon. They are sold with a exoust kit to vent outside. I have the 8kw unit which I vent out a house window. It has been running since late October with a carbon monoxide detector near the unit ( witch has never gone off !!!! )

Steve
9 months ago
Reply to  Dave

My guess is this was found in a trash can and Mr. Dana “repaired” it so he had a working unit. I doubt he had any money since he was homeless and living in his van. This obviously was not a camper van.

Sophia Margarete
9 months ago

I appreciate the comprehensive article: facts concisely presented and explained. This is an example of good journalism. The world needs more journalism like this. HOWEVER, from a Comment it appears the initial article was NOT so stellar in keeping with the journalistic process; the journalistic process providing VERIFIED facts of the who, what, when, where, and why. Please provide more responsible journalism so misinformation, hysteria, and conspiracy theories are not promoted. Thank you.

Steve
9 months ago

Who, what , where and why? The man died – how do you think they are going to get more info?????
Sorry – not trying to be argumentative, but come on!

douglas daniels
9 months ago

Ventless heaters are very risky. My whole family got those symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning while I was at work. I by the grace of God I called home and woke my wife up. She said they were all not feeling well and went to bed. I asked if the stove was on and it was. I told her to get everyone outside and they immediately felt better. We got rid of the ventless heater.

Bob G.
9 months ago

Just adds fuel to the argument that foolishness can be fatal. Sad, but instructive.

Sharon B
9 months ago

My former husband and I were sailing from Key Largo to Elliot Key for the night. We anchored by an approx 40 ft cabin cruiser, maybe a Bertram . It was all closed up. We made dinner and later went to sleep. The next morning we set sail for Miami. That same cabin cruiser was still anchored. No sight of people nor any movement on the boat. Later that day we heard that a husband, wife and dog had died from carbon monoxide poisoning. Who would have thought there was a dead family on that boat just anchored next to us.
You wonder what could have happened with factory equipment on that expensive new boat. Where did that carbon monoxide come from. It was a hot day when we arrived and most boats that size use their A/C, but there was no noise so the AC was not being used. Still years have past and and I still wonder what happened.
I am always concerned using the heater in my camper. It’s all also so darn noisy. Yes I do have a carbon monoxide detector and the batteries are always changed every few months.
But I will be buying another so I have 2 running at the same time. I like redundancy.

Tom Kelly
9 months ago
Reply to  Sharon B

Just make sure you’re getting enough outside ventilation it could just save your life one day

Billy Bob Thorton
8 months ago
Reply to  Sharon B

Did you end up with the boat? Give me a call, I can get rid of the current anchor!!

TIM
9 months ago

Your article last week made unfair assumptions and I stated that last week. Why does this publication seem to always look negatively at virtually all organizations and manufacturers? The person did this to themselves and the manufacturer has zero responsibility.

I wish you would leave the negative bias out of your articles and stick to the facts.

Alvin
9 months ago
Reply to  TIM

So TIM, would leave out of his telling material pertinent to the story deemed “negative”, delivering only the nice stuff, of which in this case there isn’t much.

I suggest picking up a copy of Bernard Goldberg’s book “Bias”. You’ll find reading it how the media manipulates then controls the public message & mind when an incomplete doctored model of reporting creeps into the media.

Not enough? Goldberg’s splendid book “Arrogance” isn’t a bad one to have in the library either.

.

John
9 months ago

I would call this a pretty clear case of suicide. Anyone making that many modifications knows enough about the technology to understand it was a time-bomb waiting to time out.

Admin
RV Staff (@rvstaff)
9 months ago
Reply to  John

Like I mentioned before, the first responders said it appeared he was fixing himself a meal. Why would he bother if he intended to commit suicide? —Diane at RVtravel.com

DMW
9 months ago
Reply to  John

Ahh…. but grasshopper, you grossly underestimate the ignorance of many of our citizens. Many people faced with anything technical couldn’t think their way out of a paper bag. How many read the instructions that come with a product? You hear news stories every winter about how this family or that all died using a BBQ or some such for emergency heat. How many people pay any attention to anything other than f-book or the like. As a prime example look at our countries political situation at the moment…. Yes, suicide by ignorance.

Cheryl W
9 months ago

I have to say something. I have had a Buddy Heater going on 8 years. I have used my Buddy heater in my truck campers and my trailer in that time. First thing I never close up my trailer I have a vent open and a small window open as well. my Buddy heater heats my trailer very nicely. I always have my vent open no matter what time of year.

Pierre Woody
9 months ago
Reply to  Cheryl W

Same here, we need 18 in total openings of fresh air for the big buddy heater.

Pat g
9 months ago

Another thought, with all the modifications and tape, sadly, maybe he committed suicide.

Admin
RV Staff (@rvstaff)
9 months ago
Reply to  Pat g

However, first responders said it appeared Mr. Dana was trying to cook on the heater. So that, IMO, doesn’t fit with the possibility of suicide. —Diane at RVtravel.com

Vickie McClellan-Benson
9 months ago

Exactly my thought.

Vickie McClellan-Benson
9 months ago

Wow. It isn’t nice to speak ill of the dead but, OMD you can not legislate ignorance.

Alvin
9 months ago

Well folks there’s certainly a lot of thought on this subject. First I was deeply saddened to learn of Mr. Dana and his pets departure. We can’t do anything now but we can learn from the tragedy.
Second Kudos to the company coming forth, to clear the air. Such responsibility restores faith in their product.
This entire story brought me and the CEO here back to her sisters husbands parents both who died tragically in a truck box camper in the early 80’s when a propane stove failed in the night, when using it for heating purposes. They had been on a fishing trip in north central Alberta Canada, and hadn’t returned from that trip, which prompted a search by the son, who found a camper intact with the door locked. Imagine the fear of possibly knowing what would greet him when that door was finally pried open.
This man was never quite the same after, nor is my wife’s sister who just recently celebrated living with him for 53 years.
Thanks Russ and Tina for the update, its made many of us more aware to be aware and smart, in our travels and procedures.

Member
Mike Sokol (@mike)
9 months ago

There really needs to be more education about anything that burns fuel in an enclosed space. Sadly there was a family killed from carbon monoxide poisoning last year when a contractor ran a generator inside of a house he was building and the kids must have stayed overnight. And I can’t convince my 90 year old father that running a car in a garage with the door closed is dangerous. He insists that it warms up faster with the door closed, and states that he doesn’t breath deeply when getting into the garage. Of course that was a detached garage, but now that he’s in a house with an attached garage I have to keep warning him NOT to warm up his truck while sitting in the garage especially with the garage door closed. Catalytic space heaters are in a separate class, but without proper ventilation they all can become deadly. I don’t know if any of them have a carbon monoxide shutoff, but that would seem to be a logical safety feature.

Darrel
9 months ago
Reply to  Mike Sokol

Install a CO alarm in his garage. It might help him understand the danger.

Alvin
9 months ago
Reply to  Darrel

Perhaps Darrel, I say pray for him.

Member
Mike Sokol (@mike)
9 months ago
Reply to  Darrel

Yes, already installing additional smoke and CO detectors in this new townhouse. He also insisted that he could run his Honda EU7000i generator at his old house in the detached garage with the door closed. He was worried that someone would walk by, see his expensive generator and steal it. He lives in the middle of a hundred acres of woods, and the last time somebody he didn’t know walked up his lane was at least 30 years ago. I may add a CO safety discussion to my RVelectricity Master Classes this year because so many RVers are using generators when boondocking. And of course, running propane stovetops without ventilation can also be a cause of CO poisoning. Much more to write about…

Tim Palmer
9 months ago
Reply to  Mike Sokol

A townhouse! All the more reason to get through to him. Now he may be putting his neighbors unknowingly at risk.

Dell
9 months ago

Good article, but would have been more impressive if the research into cause had been done by an independent organization. Seems that Enerco just MIGHT have a conflict of interest here and a strong incentive to ‘blame the victim’. Remember how Boeing blamed the pilots for the first 737 Max crash?

M. Will
9 months ago
Reply to  Dell

Apparently I was reading and looking at different heater in this article. That whole thing was a major accident waiting to happen and the blame for it had nothing to do with the manufacture. Sorry this guy had to die because of this heater setup but he had modified, tweaked and jury rigged it so badly that its amazing it worked at all. Sometimes when you keep messing with something when you are not supposed to it will come back eventually and bite you in the butt. About Wave Heaters. I have had two different models over the last 35 years and have never had one problem with either one. If you take care of them and follow all of the precautions you won’t have any problems. I guess that makes me a FOOL!! Happy Holiday Rick!!

BobG
9 months ago
Reply to  Dell

Dell, regardless of who did the research, it’s obvious from the photos (provided by the city), that the unit was an “outdoor use only” unit – if you’re doubtful, check Mr. Heater’s website.

I agree with M. Will’s comment, because, as I’m sure you know, using an outdoor propane heater indoors is a recipe for disaster.

tom mason
9 months ago
Reply to  Dell

How you can read the findings and look at the pic’s and think that Enerco could have any conflict of interest is unbelievable. Maybe they need to include someone to watch over the users of the items they sell. What ever happened to personal responsibility. Seems like a “Here’s your sign” moment.

Darrel
9 months ago
Reply to  Dell

Read the article again. You have reached a conclusion unsupported by the facts.

Sophia Margarete
9 months ago
Reply to  Dell

I know we want to see conspiracy everywhere but it appears the analysis of this accident is not solely from Enerco. The modifications and misuse of the heater are confirmed by municipal investigators. The basic of facts is that an outside heater was used in an enclosed area.

rick
9 months ago

I’ve used forced air furnaces for 40 years. I read on blogs how people are trying to get heat on the cheap or modifying exis heaters like noted in this story. I reply w a link to amazon to suburban furnaces citing how well they work and no venting of windows etc is needed. I get flack from all who want to create simple cheap heat by catalitic heaters. Fools all, for some reason they simply do not want to do it right.

Dick and Sandy near Buffalo, NY
9 months ago

Life is precious. Safety in your home and your RV, no matter what size or brand is paramount. No one can put a monetary cost on life. We do not put all our trust on what is normally installed in our home or in our Class A DP motor home in terms of Smoke or CO 2 alarms. We have installed a commercial brand series of Smoke, CO 2 and Heat alarms in our home. These alarms have 10 year batteries (with warnings when they get low) and the alarms talk to each other. If a normal alarm went off in our home basement we would not hear it in our bedroom at the far opposite end of the house. Because our commercial alarms talk to each other, when one alarm goes off, they all go off warning us that something is not right. A button on any one of the alarms can be touched and all the alarms except the first one that sounded the alarm, goes off so that the problem alarm can be identified. AND all these alarms are portable. When we go on a trip in our RV we mount one Smoke, CO 2 and Heat alarm in their proper places in the Motor Home. You could take them with you when staying in a hotel or motel to increase your protection. Are they expensive, yes. But what price do you value on your life or the life of your family members. The brand we use is called CROSS FIRE. We do not have any affiliation with that company. I am sure there are other brands on the market. SAFE TRAVELS AND HAPPY HOLIDAYS TO ALL

Diane Mc
9 months ago

Went to Crossfire website. No prices. No way to purchase. Unless I’m missing something. Where/how did you purchase yours?

Admin
RV Staff (@rvstaff)
9 months ago
Reply to  Diane Mc

Diane, I tried looking for that info, also, and even looked for Crossfire on Amazon, but no luck. However, while on Amazon I searched for “combo smoke CO detectors interconnected” and found several, and reasonably priced. They even have ones that tell you where the problem is located and/or what the problem is. Here’s a link to that page: https://amzn.to/2s2J6ZR Hope this helps. And that sounds like a very smart idea. —Diane at RVtravel.com

chris p hemstead
9 months ago

CO, not CO 2

Tim Palmer
9 months ago

Interconnected smoke and CO detectors are required in homes by code.