After losing son to CO poisoning, Minnesota man donates 10,000 CO detectors

When the brightly colored plumbing van rolls up to the Family Pathways office each winter, Kathy Wills knows it’s a special delivery.

"We started with 60," said Wills of the boxes of carbon monoxide detectors delivered to her network of food shelves. "They went so quickly that first year and ten years later, here we are again."

The man with the special delivery is William Sherk, the owner of Neighborhood Plumbing and Heating. He unloaded more than 700 CO detectors that he’s gathered in donations from Home Depot with the support of other businesses in Chisago County. He’s been making these donations every year for the past ten, and each year he thinks it might be his last.  And then, someone else dies from CO poisoning.

"We had two people that passed away in the county that I live in," said Sherk of the latest tragedies.  "So many people have helped out throughout the years that they were actually calling me to find out, hey, what are you going to do? And I'm like, Oh, I'm in."

Sherk gets the satisfaction of knowing he’s helping families keep themselves safe.  But he also admits his mission is personal as well.

"My son passed away in 2004 from accidental carbon monoxide poisoning. And if he would have had a detector, he might be here today," reflected Sherk on his son Keith.

Minnesota law requires a CO detector to be placed at least ten feet from any room used for sleeping.  But like smoke detectors, oftentimes families don’t replace them when they expire or do not replace the batteries. The detectors Sherk passed on to Family Pathways will be distributed to the nine food shelves it manages to get them into the hands of people who might be able to afford one.

"Families are struggling with food costs, they go to bed hungry," said Wills, who is Family Pathways manager of food equity.  "I can imagine they in their home maybe don't have a working carbon monoxide detector, and they need it. So we're here to help save them and help get them safe."

Sherk says he has more CO detectors to distribute to non-profit organizations that might need some for their clients.  He can be reached at

"Really make sure that the people you know have a working carbon monoxide detector because the life you saved couldn't be closer than what you think," pleaded Sherk.