Andrew Brady Free was one more fatality as the result of a little-known, often misunderstood, invisible danger. Carbon monoxide dangers are something that many of us are aware of, as it relates to inhaling exhaust, specifically in enclosed spaces. However, this is not always the case, and this is certainly not Andy's story.
Carbon monoxide hangs out in the air. Andy left this life at the loading/unloading dock, at the boat ramp, while on a boat that wasn't even running. He became unconscious and fell into the water. It was later discovered that his carboxyhemoglobin levels had reached 72%, where the threshold for mortality is around 35% for an adult human.
So where did all of the carbon monoxide come from? It came as the result of slow speeds (the family's last activity had been wakesurfing and they had to cross an exceptionally long no-wake zone in order to return to the dock), possible tailwinds, and a large number of boaters on the lake that day (where more engines are running in an area, carbon monoxide accumulations will increase at a higher rate). It was the perfect storm for the young boat passenger. His body couldn't take it and he slowly passed away until his brain functioning slowed and he fell asleep.
How did could you not notice? If you know anything about water sports on hot summer days, you know that they are exhausting. If you know anything about being in the sun all day, you know that heat exhaustion and dehydration are not uncommon. Where winds prevail on water and large numbers of boats share a space, people can suffer from sea-sicknesses. All of these things present the same as carbon monoxide poisoning. You might have a headache. You might feel nauseous. Or you might be like Andy was, and you might feel really tired. To the Free family, who knew nothing about open-air carbon monoxide poisoning, Andy was a very tired little boy who had had a long day at the lake.
Besides, their boat had been moving all day in the wind. When they did stop, and when they docked, they always turned off their boat engine,
The Free family has decades of experience on the lake and on boats. Their experience starts in the 1970-80's, before open-air carbon monoxide poisoning became more widely known. They spent their weekends, and even their weekdays, on the lake- tubing, wakeboarding, and wakesurfing. They are not social boaters and you wouldn't typically find them basking in "idle" time on the lake.
They are also mechanically inclined and educated when it comes to engines in a variety of applications.
The Center for Disease Control and the US Coast Guard have some great information on the dangers of carbon monoxide, as it relates to boating, on their websites. But many veteran boaters, and future boaters, don't know to look for this information. Because carbon monoxide is silent, invisible, odorless, and it hangs out in the open air for up to 4-6 hours on a calm day, this information needs to be proactively shared with the general public.
Cassi Free wrote an online post that was shared across the globe, fulfilling one of Andy-Dude's dreams to become a viral sensation, and their story has continued to reach new ears in new places far and wide, where they have found that they were not alone. The majority of people who have read, responded, and shared their story were unaware of this particular danger. Many other grieving parents, siblings, and children have contacted them to share their own similar stories.
It didn't take long before the media picked up on the story and it has been on every major news network, on search engine homepages, and retold in blogs.
God willing, "Andy's Law" will be passed in the February 2023 Oklahoma legislature.
Andy-Dude's story was recorded as part of a Public Service Announcement with the US Army Corp of Engineers and the Free family anxiously await both the outcome of Andy's Law and the release of their public service announcement.
With a grant and support from Waves of Hope, the National Safe Boating Council, and the US Coast Guard, Cassi Free has helped to design signs warning of the dangers of open-air carbon monoxide. The signs are being posted at public water access points all across the United States.
Cassi Free has spoken at the International Boat and Water Safety Summit, the National Water Safety Conference, SafeKids, and is a member of Waves of Hope.
Check back for more information to come.