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Nearly nine years after OPP officer Laurie Hawkins and her family died of carbon monoxide poisoning, many Canadian families still don’t own a detector

By Heather Rivers, Woodstock Sentinel-Review

Members of the Woodstock Fire Department spent the week spreading awareness about the importance of carbon monoxide detectors. From left Brian Egan, Lukasz Kasprzyk and Lisa Woods. (HEATHER RIVERS, Sentinel-Review)

Members of the Woodstock Fire Department spent the week spreading awareness about the importance of carbon monoxide detectors. From left Brian Egan, Lukasz Kasprzyk and Lisa Woods. (HEATHER RIVERS, Sentinel-Review)

It’s a day many Oxford County residents will never forget.

On December 1, 2008, Laurie Hawkins, a 41-year-old OPP community services officer, was discovered barely alive by fellow police officers in her carbon monoxide-choked home.

Her husband Richard and children, Cassandra, 14, and Jordan, 12, were also found dead at various locations in the Chippewa Avenue home, a result of a build-up of carbon monoxide due to a blocked vent in their fireplace.

Rushed to hospital, the popular OPP officer died several days later of carbon monoxide poisoning.

The family did not own a carbon monoxide alarm and hadn't had their chimney checked.

“It was an awful tragedy,” said Lisa Woods of the Woodstock Fire Department. “(Carbon monoxide poisoning) has always been a concern for the Woodstock Fire Department but that highlighted that a tragedy could happen in any community. It certainly woke our community up to the reality.”

Referred to as the silent killer, carbon monoxide is invisible, odourless and tasteless.

After her death Laurie's uncle John Gignac, a retired Brantford fire fighter, started the Hawkins-Gignac Foundation to raise awareness about carbon monoxide alarms.

The foundation works to ensure every Canadian home has one by raising money for CO alarms for low-income families.

Last week he was in Woodstock at an awareness-raising event with Oxford MPP Ernie Hardeman.

“A carbon monoxide alarm would have alerted (the Hawkins family) to the poisonous gas in their home and would have saved their lives,” he said. “We can’t change the past and bring them back, but we can change the future by ensuring that no more lives are taken by something so preventable.”

“Laurie spent her career in public safety and I know that she would want her story to remembered to make sure what happened to her family never happens to another.”

At the event Friday, Hardeman partnered with the Insurance Bureau of Canada to donate 150 carbon monoxide alarms to the Woodstock Fire Department.

“The only way we can protect ourselves and our families is to install carbon monoxide detectors in our homes and speak up about the importance of having these alarms to those around us,” Hardeman said.

Woods said the Woodstock Fire Department has been knocking on doors across the city since last Wednesday to ensure local citizens were aware of the importance of the detectors and replacing them when they expire.

“They do need to be replaced and the batteries need to be replaced,” she said. “If they go off get out of the house and call us.”

Woods said it is also important that the alarms be installed on every level and checked monthly.

“They need to be near where people are sleeping so they will wake up in the middle of the night,” she said.

Ontario law requires that carbon monoxide alarms be installed in all residential dwellings that contain at least one fuel-burning appliance, fireplace or attached garage.

HRivers@postmedia.com