Thursday, April 26, 2007

Wolk bill to remove deadly gas floor furnaces moves forward

California Chronicle: Wolk bill to remove deadly gas floor furnaces moves forward:

SACRAMENTO – The Assembly Committee on Utilities and Commerce voted 8-2 late Monday to approve legislation by Assemblywoman Lois Wolk (D-Davis) to replace gas floor furnaces known to cause fires and carbon monoxide poisoning. Wolk drafted the legislation in response to a house fire that nearly killed a former field representative of Wolk’s, Kingsley Melton of Davis.

Last December, on the day after Christmas, a fire in San Diego severely burnt Melton. The fire was caused by an old gas floor furnace thought to be inoperable. An unusual cold snap triggered the thermostat, and the furnace turned on—lighting the furnace and a nearby couch on fire. Melton escaped the apartment with severe burns. After spending over three weeks in a coma and undergoing two skin-graft operations, he is making a full recovery.

Wolk researched the issue and found dozens of other similar fires in recent years, many of them resulting in death. Prior legislative efforts to replace old floor and wall furnaces have failed. Wolk’s bill focuses only on floor furnaces.

“Thousands of these furnaces were installed in homes decades ago,” said Wolk. “Although they are now obsolete and recognized by fire experts as fundamentally unsafe, thousands are still in use. The purpose of this bill is to replace every one of these deadly and inefficient furnaces in California.

Wolk’s legislation, Assembly Bill 1234, requires the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to establish a program to assist low-income residents in replacing gas floor furnaces. The bill also declares dwelling units with gas floor furnaces untenantable beginning in 2014.

Witnesses in support included firefighters, advocates for seniors and low-income Californians, and Melton, who provided the lead testimony.

“I’ve since learned of dozens of stories similar to mine,” said Melton. The sad part is how many weren’t as lucky as me, if that’s what you want to call it,” Melton said. “I don’t want anyone to go through what I’ve been through. This bill is a good start, and because of it fewer people will die and suffer the pain I’ve suffered, and fewer families will have to go through what mine went through, and worse.”

“It is enough that these furnaces are a public health and safety issue, one existing most commonly in the homes and apartments of low-income Californians. But this is also an issue of energy efficiency,” said Wolk. “These furnaces are notoriously energy inefficient, especially when compared to newer, and much more efficient, wall furnaces and other heating systems. These furnaces need to be replaced with something safer and more efficient, and the sooner the better.

The bill is supported by the California Professional Firefighters, California Fire Chiefs Association, Fire Districts Association of California, California State Firefighters Association, Western Center on Law and Poverty, California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation, the American Association of Retired Persons, Consumer Attorneys of California, and the Division of Ratepayer Advocate of the Public Utilities Commission.

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