On the night of Dec. 30, 2020, Justin Tate, his sister and his parents were watching TV after enjoying an oven-baked dinner when a sudden loud beeping interrupted their show.
Soon after that, a second beeping started. The sound was coming from a pair of carbon monoxide detectors, warning Justin and his family that the air inside their Indiana home was becoming unsafe to breathe.
“My mom called 911,” says Justin, who is 13. “They told us to get out of the house and to not lay down if we were tired.”
Outside their home, Justin’s mom, Melissa Tate, waited for a fire truck and ambulance to arrive. She had a headache — a sure symptom of exposure to the deadly, odorless gas.
“When the firefighters arrived, they went into the house. The carbon monoxide was so high they had to come back out and mask up,” Melissa says. “When I asked the firemen about the levels, I was told that levels become dangerous at 15. Our daughter’s bedroom had a reading of 38, and Justin’s bedroom had a reading of 35.”
Once the house had been ventilated and everyone could safely head back inside, the realization hit them. Justin had installed those carbon monoxide detectors only months before — as part of a project for the Family Life merit badge.
Justin, a First Class Scout with Troop 69 of Yorktown, Ind. (Crossroads of America Council), had saved their lives.
“A lot of people don’t think about carbon monoxide detectors — I know I didn’t until Justin decided to replace ours for his badge,” Melissa says. “You don’t realize that something so inexpensive could potentially save your life.”
The Family Life merit badge
As implied by its name, Family Life merit badge includes requirements completed by the Scout with their family.
Justin says he enjoyed talking with his family about the importance of being healthy, staying safe and making good decisions with money.
“I learned a lot about my family that I didn’t know since we had family meetings and had time to talk about different things,” he says.
Melissa says she also enjoyed the extra quality time with her son, husband (Dustin) and daughter (Kaylin).
“We discussed a lot of things when he was working on the Family Life merit badge, like chores, family meetings and the importance of each member of our family,” she says. “As a family, we cleaned out our breezeway and installed some shelves for organization. And he replaced our regular smoke detectors with combination smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.”
Those detectors became part of requirement 5, where Scouts must:
Plan and carry out a project that involves the participation of your family. After completing the project, discuss the following with your merit badge counselor:
(a) The objective or goal of the project
(b) How individual members of your family participated
(c) The results of the project
When considering projects for that requirement, Justin narrowed his list down to three: blacktopping the driveway, planting a flower bed or installing carbon monoxide detectors.
“I think that every family should have at least one carbon monoxide detector, if not more, in their house,” he says. “You don’t know when a situation like this could happen to you and your family.”
What caused the carbon monoxide buildup
For Christmas, Melissa had received an oven liner as a gift. These oven-proof mats, often made of food-grade silicone, are designed to catch spills from food and make it easier to clean your oven.
The mats are intended to be used on the lower rack of the oven — never directly on the bottom of the oven. If the oven liner is not used properly or cut to the exact specifications of the oven, it could block vents or other openings in the oven, causing a potentially dangerous buildup of carbon monoxide.
“Once the gas company arrived and checked the house, they realized that the spill mat was blocking the vents, causing carbon monoxide to be released into the house,” Melissa says.
In addition to being proud of her son’s preparedness, Melissa also agreed to share her story as a warning to other families: use oven liners safely, and always have a working carbon monoxide detector.
“I feel a lot of emotions about it — glad he decided to change our detectors out, relieved that we are all right,” Melissa says. “But mostly, I am thankful that while researching projects, he chose this one. And it probably saved our lives.”
Why America still needs Scouting
Melissa was raised in a Scouting family. Her dad is an Eagle Scout and was her brother’s Scoutmaster growing up. When her own children wanted to give Scouting a try, “we encouraged it and got involved,” Melissa says.
“Scouting teaches children very important life skills and lessons,” Melissa says. “It also shows children that they are important as well as valued and gives them a sense of pride.”
Justin’s reason for joining Scouting is a little different.
“I joined Scouting because it sounded fun,” he says. “It’s kind of like a different kind of school, since you get to learn new things like first aid and how to build a fire and stuff like that. I also like going on campouts and stuff.”
And there was one more reason sure to make a certain family member smile.
“I also wanted to be like my grandpa and get Eagle Scout and make him proud,” Justin says.
It was that grandpa, Gene Moore (Eagle Scout Class of 1961), who shared Justin’s story with Bryan on Scouting.
“Thanks to the Family Life merit badge requiring the project and Justin researching a need for the family, he, his mother and father and sister are safe today,” he says. “All Scouts should assess their homes for a similar need.”
To learn more about the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning, read this BSA Safety Moment and consult the resources listed on that page.