A carbon monoxide leak at Urbana High School on Friday tested local emergency responders, filling the emergency room at Mercy Memorial Hospital and keeping officials on their toes.
Carbon monoxide is found in fumes when burning fuel, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The gas can build indoors and poison those who breathe it. Symptoms include headaches, dizziness, weakness, upset stomach, vomiting, chest pain and confusion.
Authorities were tipped off to the carbon monoxide problem Friday by a gas smell in the “Castle” building, though it is not always easy to detect just by smell. Carbon monoxide can kill if a person breathes in a lot of it.
The issue, caused by a jammed damper on a boiler, sickened students and staff and led to a school dismissal. Forty-four patients were evaluated by EMS personnel at the scene, with 12 transported to hospitals. Four patients were sent to Ohio State University Medical Center for oxygenation treatment, Urbana Fire Chief Mark Keller said Wednesday.
An ambulance transporting one of the patients was involved in a crash on the way to OSU, Keller said. The crash took place at the intersection of state Routes 29 and 38, he said. The patient experienced minor injuries.
Urbana Superintendent Charles Thiel said Tuesday at a school board meeting the student in that crash was wearing a neck brace later that evening at a game.
Representatives from Mercy Memorial Hospital, Champaign Health District, Champaign County Emergency Management Agency, Urbana Fire Division, the city of Urbana and Urbana City Schools gathered Tuesday to discuss the event response and determine if improvement was needed, Community Mercy Health Partners Spokesman Dave Lamb said.
Thiel told the school board at its meeting the discussion was beneficial to look at the positives and improvements that need to be made in similar emergency responses.
Thiel and board members all expressed concern for any student or staff impacted by the incident and said they were thankful for no serious injuries. Board Vice President Darrell Thomas said he was thankful the school took care of his eighth grader, who had broken his leg and was on crutches. Officials decided not to take him outside in freezing and icy weather, instead evacuating him through the building when it was safe to do so.
Board President Jan Engle said due to the age of the equipment and the school buildings, he knew all that equipment is constantly monitored to keep it in working order, but that sometimes it just stops working. The boilers had been tested and were working that morning before school started, Thiel said previously.
“We are just lucky it turned out the way it did,” Engle said.
Casey S. Elliott may be reached at 937-652-1331 ext. 1772 or on Twitter @UDCElliott.