Cass County Meals on Wheels workers save client from natural gas leak

DOWAGIAC — Last Wednesday, Michael Faunce thought something smelled funny.

The Meals on Wheels worker was delivering a meal to a client in Dowagiac with work partner Cindy Polomcak when he smelled what he thought was natural gas after the client opened the door.

The actions Faunce and Polomcak took following may have saved the life of a Cass County resident.

Natural gas is odorless but the chemical mercaptan is added to give it rotten eggs or hydrogen sulfide-like odor for easy detection, which is what Faunce smelled when he visited his client last week.

“He turned and yelled to me,” said Polomcak, who was behind the wheel at the time. “My heart dropped, and he asked me to come over to the door.”

Polomcak smelled it too and immediately called Lori Hardy, chief of care services at the Cass County Council on Aging and Polomcak’s supervisor, who then instructed the pair to call 911.

After calling 911, the fire department arrived soon after, which evacuated the house to investigate and confirmed the presence of natural gas.

“It ended up being duct work,” Hardy said. “The furnace wasn’t properly ventilated. The client had to have their furnace removed and are using an electric heater for the time being. As inconvenient as that may be, they could have had a different outcome.”

The COA’s Meals on Wheels program delivers hot and frozen meals to Cass County seniors. For many of its clients, the Meals on Wheels delivery person may be their only personal interaction during the week.

“Sometimes we are the only lifelines our clients see,” Polomcak said. “We have had other staff discover a person who had fallen and couldn’t get up. The fear that comes across you. Sometimes you don’t know what’s going to happen, but they’re always so thankful and appreciative of the meals we drop off.”

“There are a lot of clients who don’t see people daily,” Faunce added. “Even if they don’t open up the door, I still like to hear people’s voices and make sure that everything sounds okay.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has made Meals on Wheels all the more important due to increased desire from clients to quarantine themselves away from the virus, according to the COA. Faunce and Polomcak work for the COA’s Adult Day Service, which provides a safe, stimulating and supportive environment for adults in need of care or supervision during the day. Due to the pandemic, the duo has been tasked with delivering meals in addition to ADS work.

“We deal with a lot of Alzheimer’s and dementia patients,” she said. “I always think that could be me, which is why do my best to help people.”

“[The patients] are very near and dear to our hearts,” Faunce added. “I’m 63 years old. I would want someone to do that for me.”

Hardy has long appreciated the effort and care her Meals on Wheels staffers put into their work.

“I can’t say enough about the staff we have here,” she said. “I trust them 110 percent. If they have an inkling that something is wrong, I think they take the right action in making sure people are safe.”

Faunce balked at the thought of being called a hero. For him, it is all in a day’s work.

“Am I a hero? I ain’t no hero,” he said. “I ask the lord to use me every day, and he did. We help any way we possibly can.”

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