No 'silver bullet' for preventing hypothermia death: ATCO manager

It's up to a client to be clear on what they need when they phone, the head of customer service and billing for ATCO I-Tek said outside a fatality inquiry looking into how a Calgary man died of hypothermia in his own home.

It's up to a client to be clear on what they need when they phone, the head of customer service and billing for ATCO I-Tek said outside a fatality inquiry looking into what led to a Calgary man dying of hypothermia in his own home.

John Davis, 58, died of hypothermia in his northeast Calgary home on Nov. 24, 2006.

The natural gas to Davis's house was disconnected on June 8, 2006, because of $573.24 in unpaid bills. The inquiry has already heard that Davis called four times asking that the service be turned back on.

"It's not the quantity of times that a customer calls, it's what happens during that call," Mike Jones, director of customer care and billing for ATCO I-Tek, told reporters outside the inquiry on Thursday.

"If the agent perceived Mr. Davis as unsafe or in danger, he would have been handled differently."

Gas reconnected 3 days after man's death

ATCO I-Tek takes care of billing and customer service for Direct Energy, an energy retailer that sells natural gas distributed by ATCO Gas.

Davis's mother paid the bills on Sept. 6, but the gas was not reconnected until Nov. 27 — three days after Davis's death.

Jones told the inquiry Thursday that the death was sad, but that there was no "silver bullet" or company policy that could have prevented what happened.

On Wednesday, a customer care co-ordinator for ATCO Gas told the inquiry that the company does not disconnect natural gas between Dec. 1 and April 15, or when the temperature dips below freezing in other months. However, there is no policy to restore an already disconnected service when the weather turns frigid.

The inquiry heard Davis was a chronic alcoholic who lived by himself, but an autopsy found he was not drunk at the time of his death and that cold temperatures had caused his death.

Temperature in home below freezing

Concerned about not hearing from him, his mother had called police and asked them to check on his welfare.

Const. Brian Clark told the inquiry on Thursday that he and another officer found Davis face down on the kitchen floor of the Bedford Circle home where Davis had lived for 28 years. Clark said it was –20 C outside and estimated the temperature inside the home was about  –5 C.

When Clark called from a neighbour's home to inquire about the lack of heat and request that it be restored to avoid pipes freezing and other potential problems, a customer service representative for ATCO I-Tek told him a security deposit and reconnection fee of $81.50 was required.

She advised him to phone the corporate security officer who would decide whether the natural gas would be reconnected. She also said the cost of the phone call would be charged to whatever line he was calling from or the police force, Clark recalled.

"I was told it [the phone charges] would need to be at the expense of myself or the police service," Clark testified.

With files from Bryan Labby