CO safety mes­sage

Tillsonburg News - - LOCAL - VIN­CENT BALL

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. endthe­si­ 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.”

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