CO safety message
John Gignac has spent the last 10 years promoting carbon monoxide safety.
“There are times when I get a little down, a little tired but then I remember why I’m doing this,” said the retired Brantford firefighter. “It’s about Laurie and her family – the lives lost – and it’s about all the lives we’ve saved since then.
“I get letters from people thanking me for what we’ve done and it’s gratifying to know that we’re making a difference.
Gignac is the uncle of Laurie Hawkins, who, along with her husband, Richard, and their two children, Cassandra, 14 and Jordan, 10, died of carbon monoxide poisoning in their Woodstock home in late 2008. And, as Carbon Monoxide Safety Week got underway on Nov. 1, Gignac took a moment to reflect on the past decade.
“I think Laurie would be proud of what we’ve accomplished,” he said.
“She was an OPP officer who was always promoting children’s safety and both she and Richard were heavily involved in their community beyond their work.
“I always kind of felt that when she passed, she tapped me on the shoulder and said it was up to me to make people aware of the dangers of carbon monoxide.”
Carbon monoxide, or CO, is often called the “silent killer” because it is odourless, tasteless and colourless. It is produced by the incomplete combustion of fossil fuels, including gasoline, oil, natural gas, propane and wood.
Dangerous amounts of carbon monoxide can accumulate when fuel doesn’t burn properly in an appliance due to poor installation and maintenance, equipment failure or damage. People affected by carbon monoxide poisoning start feeling nauseous, get headaches, burning eyes, and start to feel drowsy and confused.
The Hawkins family died when a clogged chimney vent caused carbon monoxide from their gas fireplace to seep back into their home
Following the tragedy, Gignac and other family members dedicated themselves to educating others about carbon monoxide and urged municipalities across Ontario to adopt bylaws requiring homes to have CO alarms.
Gignac also founded the HawkinsGignac Foundation for CO Education.
“We’ve distributed more than 10,000 CO alarms, 6,000 in Ontario and something like 4,000 across Canada,” Gignac said. “We have a website, we’ve done a lot of public service announcements and I get called on to talk about CO safety all the time.
“One of the biggest things we did was reach out to seniors who are still living in their own homes to make sure they understood the dangers and had CO alarms.”
The foundation’s website is www. endthesilence.ca and money to support its work is raised through donations and an annual golf tournament. The foundation receives support from a variety of sources, including the OPP.
“It’s all about education,” Gignac said. “We have a lot of information on our website and we’ve done a lot of speaking and trying to get through to adults.
“Our new emphasis will be on children to make sure they understand the dangers.”
One of the foundation’s biggest successes was getting the HawkinsGignac Act passed by the Ontario legislature in 2013. The act, which came into effect in October 2014, makes it mandatory for all homes in the province to have carbon monoxide alarms.
Gignac was in the legislature when the Hawkins- Gignac Act became law and he returned to Queen’s Park last Thursday to help kick off CO awareness week, which runs until this Wednesday.
“Like I said, it’s all about education and saving lives,” said Gignac. “And we want to make sure we get our message out as often as possible.”