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Best Western to mandate carbon monoxide detectors in every room

More than a year after three people died at a Best Western in Boone, the chain has ordered its hotels to install carbon monoxide alarms in all guest rooms.

Best Western’s board of directors agreed last week to require that all North American hotels operating under the company’s banner put alarms in rooms by Dec. 1, according to an email obtained by the Observer.

Todd Sommers, a spokesman for the Arizona-based company, confirmed that Best Western will mandate carbon monoxide alarms in rooms, but declined further comment Monday.

The action comes one month after carbon monoxide sickened at least two dozen people and forced the evacuation of a Best Western hotel near Scranton, Pa.

Last year, leaking carbon monoxide at the Best Western hotel in Boone killed a Washington state couple, Daryl and Shirley Jenkins, as well as Jeffrey Williams, an 11-year-old Rock Hill boy.

Investigators attributed the leak to the hotel’s swimming pool heater.

Jeannie Williams was in Room 225 on June 8, 2013, when her son, Jeffrey, died and she suffered serious injuries. She said Monday that she has mixed emotions about Best Western’s decision.

“I’m excited to learn it,” she told the Observer. “But if someone had done this before anyone had died, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.”

Williams added: “It won’t bring Jeffrey back and it won’t bring the Jenkinses back. But I applaud their effort to ensure the safety of hotel patrons and make it a corporate decision.”

The children of Daryl and Shirley Jenkins issued a statement Monday calling for other hotel chains to take similar steps.

“While we certainly wish they would’ve taken this action before our parents checked into the Best Western in Boone, we feel a measure of relief knowing this will hopefully prevent the death and injury of any other guests due to carbon monoxide poisoning,” said Doug Jenkins and Kris Hauschildt, the Jenkinses’ children. “It is our hope that other hotel chains will immediately follow similar suit – there is simply no excuse for not doing so.”

A better solution?

Hotels often carry famous brand names while being individually owned and operated. The national companies set guidelines for how owners can run their businesses.

Some hotel chains already require that their locations install carbon monoxide detectors, though not in every room.

Marriott says it mandates the detectors wherever fuel-burning equipment is located within the hotel. Best Western’s new directive also requires detectors in every room or enclosed space where fuel is burned.

Tom Daly, managing partner of the Hospitality Security Consulting Group, a Reno, Nev.-based company that advises hotels on safety, security and fire-prevention matters, said he’s not aware of another hotel chain that has required detectors in every room.

A better solution, he contends, is the rule recently put in place by the International Fire Code: It requires that detectors be put in every hotel room containing a fuel-burning appliance. Each state is expected to adopt that requirement within the next few years.

That requirement, Daly said, is designed to catch carbon monoxide leaks early – well before the lethal gas seeps into guest rooms.

He called the Best Western mandate “a horrendous waste of resources that could be put to other good uses.”

“It’s not unusual for someone who has had the kind of publicity Best Western has had to overreact,” he said.

Robert Mandelbaum, a research director for PKF Hospitality Research, which tracks industry trends, said Best Western’s move could spread to other chains if they feel the issue threatens their reputations for safety.

“There is a general assumption that hotels are safe,” Mandelbaum said.

Law addresses threat

Known as “the silent killer,” carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas that can cause severe illness or death in minutes. It’s emitted by cars and other fuel-burning machines and appliances.

In Boone, a police investigation determined that an improperly installed exhaust system allowed carbon monoxide to leak from the pool heater to Room 225, where it killed the Jenkinses in April 2013 and 11-year-old Jeffrey two months later.

Damon Mallatere, the hotel’s former manager, faces three counts of involuntary manslaughter in connection with the deaths. Mallatere has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

In response to the deaths, the N.C. General Assembly passed a law requiring that hotels install carbon monoxide alarms near heaters, appliances and fireplaces that burn combustion fuels. Gov. Pat McCrory last week signed legislation that broadens and clarifies the law.

Jeffrey Williams’ mother, Jeannie, is helping to launch a foundation that raises awareness about the dangers of carbon monoxide. One of her goals is to expand the use of alarms in hotels.

Williams questions why it took Best Western so long to impose the new mandate.

“It should have been done last December,” she said. “ It took too long. But I’m glad they took some responsibility to do it.”

She has this advice for those who are planning to stay at other hotels: Ask in advance whether the hotel puts carbon monoxide detectors in every room. If not, she said, travelers would be wise to bring a portable carbon monoxide detector. Staff writer Elizabeth Leland contributed.

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