BLOOMINGTON — A high carbon monoxide reading at the Mid Central Community Action offices Thursday morning triggered a brief evacuation and should serve as a reminder to install CO detectors at homes and businesses, MCCA and fire officials said.
About 30 people, including staff and clients, were evacuated from the offices at 1301 W. Washington St., Bloomington, after a CO detector alerted staff to an elevated level of the toxic gas about 11:40 a.m. Thursday.
“We use the detector with our weatherization program,” said MCCA Executive Director Deborah White. “It went off in the weatherization coordinator’s office. For the safety of everyone, we evacuated our clients and staff and called the fire department.”
Carbon monoxide is an odorless, tasteless, colorless gas that can kill before its victim is aware of the danger. At low levels of exposure, CO causes mild effects that are often mistaken for the flu, such as headaches, dizziness, disorientation, nausea and fatigue.
Car engines, stoves, furnaces and water heaters that burn fossil fuels are common sources of carbon monoxide.
The Bloomington Fire Department conducted a thorough investigation of the property with two high-end detectors along with the MCCA detector. No high levels were found, but four MCCA employees were evaluated medically as a precaution.
“They checked their oxygen level and blood stream if they wanted, and everyone checked out fine, which is the important thing,” White said.
The offices were closed until about 1 p.m. Thursday. Employees waited in the parking lot for the all-clear signal.
Stuart Blade, spokesman for the Bloomington Fire Department, said the call emphasized the importance of having a CO detector, particularly during Fire Prevention Week.
“It is called the silent killer for a reason,” he said. “With propane, you can smell it in the air. With carbon monoxide, it’s not the case.”
Blade recalled an incident last year in which the residents of a home were experiencing seizures. When first responders entered the home, the CO detectors on their backpacks immediately sounded an alarm.
“If we had gone inside the residence and started to treat the victims, then the lives of the paramedics might have been in danger,” he said. “Instead of two victims, we could have had four.”
Carbon monoxide is the leading cause of accidental poisoning deaths in United States, with more than 20,000 people hospitalized and nearly 500 killed each year. The Centers for Disease Control said carbon monoxide cases have climbed 36 percent between 2001 and 2006.
Matthew Drat, the director of resource development and community engagement for MCCA, said it was a valuable learning lesson during Fire Prevention Week.
“It’s a great example not only for homeowners, but businesses, too,” he said. “You need to have a safety plan and everyone needs to know what to do. It was great to see ours work perfectly.”
White also praised the firefighters who came to the scene.
“They were absolutely terrific,” she said. “They were here quickly, kept everyone at ease, did their job and they were very professional. I think this is a great learning lesson that we can pass on to our clients to let them know about the dangers of carbon monoxide and the importance of having a CO detector in their home and at work.”