At least eight people were suffering from symptoms of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning after a leak at an apartment building on 55 Street close to St. Augustine School in Ponoka on Jan. 11.
Though some may have driven themselves to the hospital, fire and EMS assisted eight people to an ambulance for transportation to hospital, according to Donna Noble, protective services coordinator.
Those affected were conscious and breathing but unable to walk.
Ponoka County Regional Fire Services received a call at 7:50 a.m. A female tenant had heard an alarm going off, activated the fire alarm pull station in the building to notify the rest of the building and called 911.
Elevated levels of CO were found. Police and ATCO Gas also attended the scene.
Noble said while there may have been more CO alarms in the building, that sole alarm was the only one the fire department heard going off when they were on the scene and the only one they were aware of.
“This was a lifesaver,” said Noble. “This is a prime example of stressing the importance of having carbon monoxide alarms.”
The apartment building has about 15 suites and may have had about 30 tenants, Noble estimated.
The building was evacuated and all the tenants were accounted for. Firefighters remained on the scene until about 10:30 a.m.
The property owner monitored the building overnight and the tenants did not return that day. They all found accommodations for the night, either with family or at hotels. Some were transported to the Ponoka Arena Complex to be assisted by town and county staff to find accommodations.
Noble said it’s suspected the building’s boiler was the source of the CO.
Noble explained that CO is a by-product of insufficient combustion of fossil fuels, such as natural gas, or even wood, and becomes an odourless, tasteless gas.
The gas displaces oxygen in the blood and can cause death in a short period of time, she said.
Common culprits for producing CO include furnaces, boilers, gas dryers, gas stoves,wood burning stoves, or a car running in a closed garage.
At this time of year the symptoms of CO poisoning — which include a dull headache, dizziness or weakness — can often be dismissed for just feeling under the weather, added Noble.
Symptoms can develop over a long or short period of time, she said.
Sometimes patients with CO poisoning require treatment in a hypobaric oxygen chamber to re-oxygenate their blood, so some of the tenants of the building may have been transported to larger centres for treatment, said Noble.
“We’re hopeful everything works out (for the patients) and we’re thankful it wasn’t worse.”