Dr. Ann Patterson was home alone. Her husband was away on an annual fishing trip with some friends and the kids were all out of the house at school or work.
She decided to work out in their home’s basement gym. But, as she went downstairs, she caught a whiff of something that might have been the problematic toilet in the basement bathroom.
After suffering from Covid-19 the December before, Ann was still dealing with the loss of her sense of smell that sometimes accompanies the disease. “I could smell pleasant odors, but I couldn’t smell the bad odors,” she told the group of Jasper Volunteer Firefighters Thursday evening.
So the smell wasn’t very strong to her but she decided to check the toilet to see if there was an issue. Not seeing any problems, she proceeded to work out. When she finished, she still had a nagging feeling that she should look into the smell although she still couldn’t smell it very well. She called a neighbor over to take a whiff.
The neighbor noted the rotten egg smell and he recommended she contact a technician to check into it. Ann made the call and was told someone would be in touch.
While she waited for the callback, she decided to sit down on the couch and watch some TV.
Ann doesn’t know how long she was on the couch.
“All of a sudden, I felt this push to get off of my couch,” she explained.
It had gotten late and she wondered why she hadn’t heard from the technician yet. She had to take care of the chickens.
Ann and her husband, Darren, have some chickens they allow to free range on the couple’s farm during the day. She didn’t want to miss the call from the technician, but she needed to put the chickens in their coop so they could be safe overnight.
She was also starting to feel sick.
“If it wasn’t for those darn chickens, I probably would have just gone to bed,” she said.
Finally, frustrated, she decided to call into the 9-1-1 Emergency Call Center. She dialed the regular phone line rather than the emergency number because she still didn’t think it was that big of a deal. She told the dispatcher, “I’ve got this smell and I don’t know what it is,” she said.
Then, things got blurry.
She doesn’t remember how much time passed after that, but she does remember hearing her dogs barking. They sounded like they were several houses away.
“I don’t know how I got from our back room to the front door,” she said.
But she made it and found Jasper Assistant Fire Chief Josh Dooley at the door.
“He told me that he could smell gas in the driveway,” Dr. Patterson said.
Dooley, who lives about a block from the Patterson’s home, was home at the time. He heard the call out from dispatch and, realizing how close he was, cut through a side street to get to the home quickly. As he walked up the driveway, he could smell the gas coming from the home. so he reached out to the other responding firefighters to direct them to park away from the house in case it exploded.
When he got to the front door, he could see Dr. Patterson through the glass. She looked disoriented.
The responding firefighters got Ann and the couples’ pets out of the home and shut the gas main off. They found that a fitting on the couple’s water heater had come loose, and natural gas had filled the house for several hours.
Soon after arriving, the firefighters measured the levels of gas in the house. “It was unlivable,” Dooley said.
Ann was struck by the bravery of the firefighters that responded. “As firefighters, they would have known that any little spark could have caused it to explode,” she said. “For him to walk up our walkway knowing that he could die…”
Seeing an opportunity to recognize that bravery and get some important information out to the public about the dangers of having an impaired sense of smell, Dr. Patterson decided to make a donation to Rotary International in Dooley’s name and have him named a Paul Harris Fellow.
Paul Harris founded Rotary International in 1905 and the award bearing his name is given when someone makes a $1,000 donation to Rotary International.
By connecting Dooley’s and other firefighters’ actions to the award and the danger, Ann hopes the story of the perfect storm she went through and fortunately survived will draw attention to these dangers and save lives.
While many homeowners know about and install smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors, many are not aware of gas detectors that can be installed in homes with LP or natural gas.
The Pattersons had carbon monoxide detectors in the home at the time of her ordeal but of course, they failed to protect her from the gas.
With many people losing their sense of smell and that loss lingering for months afterward, Dr. Patterson felt it was important to warn the public of the danger they may miss in their own home like she did. And, it isn’t just limited to folks with Covid-19 related issues; it impacts anyone with an impaired sense of smell that could occur from a stroke or other sinus-related issues.
“It is a good idea to get a natural gas detector,” she affirmed.
Along with the Paul Harris Fellow certificate and pin, the Pattersons donated two gas detectors to the department.
In accepting the award on behalf of the department, Dooley noted that although his name was on the award, he wasn’t the only firefighter that responded that evening. “I was the first there because I am your neighbor,” Dooley said. “But, rest assured, everybody there, anyone from this department, is your neighbor, and they would have done the same thing.”
Dooley pointed out that having the proper detectors — smoke, carbon monoxide and gas detectors — is important for saving lives.
“They are just little plastic devices, but they are lifesavers,” he said.