This article originally appeared in The Inquirer on May 21, 1995.
When Dominic Caratura Jr. was 4 years old, his mother died, and he and the rest of his family got sick from a carbon monoxide leak in his grandmother’s home.
Now 15 and a Boy Scout, it did not take Caratura long to decide what he wanted to do for his Eagle Scout community-service project: install carbon monoxide detectors in the homes of elderly people in his parish.
“I don’t want anyone else to die from carbon monoxide poisoning,” said the lanky Caratura, a freshman at Lamberton High School.
So after raising nearly $1,000 to buy the lifesaving devices, Caratura and his troop installed them in the homes of 19 members of St. Donato’s parish in West Philadelphia yesterday.
One of the recipients — and Caratura’s great-aunt — Dolores Saia, was thrilled to get the device, which detects even minute levels of the colorless, odorless, highly toxic gas. When it reaches a danger point — 35 parts per million — the detector sounds an alarm.
“Oh, thank you, honey. I think this is a wonderful thing,” she said as Caratura and his friend, Charles Malone, installed the machine on the wall of her bright yellow kitchen.
After plugging it in, Caratura gave Saia explicit instructions on its use. ''The meter should always be on ‘0,’ " he said gravely. “If it reads even ‘1,’ call 911 'cause that means the house has a leak. Call from a neighbor’s house.”
Saia, 69, said she requested the detector because she lives alone. Recently, she got nauseous from a leak in her gas stove, she said.
“My godchildren walked in and said no wonder you’re sick, there’s gas escaping, and they threw open the windows,” she said. "I really appreciate this. "
Carbon monoxide poisoning is the leading cause of poisoning deaths in the United States. Any furnace or home appliance that burns combustible fuel generates the gas, and if not properly vented, it could seep through the house.
Caratura said he got the idea for the detectors after reading about a similar project in Boys Life, a scouting magazine. He found machines that sell for $65 but the manufacturer, Nighthawk Industries, gave him a discount: he got 27 for $37 each.
CoreStates Bank donated the money and a parish priest gave him a list of names of elderly people. Caratura sent them letters and called to make sure they would be home when the Boy Scouts came around.
Caratura lost his mother on Dec. 23, 1983. His father, Dominic Sr., came home from work at 7 a.m. and found his wife dead, and his two children and mother-in-law sick. They had been nauseous during the night but thought it was the flu. They later found out that during the installation of a new heater, a chimney had gotten clogged and carbon monoxide fumes could not escape.