Carbon Monoxide Scare at Holy Family

Back to Article
Back to Article

Carbon Monoxide Scare at Holy Family

On December 9th four students experienced illness during mass, all seated in one section of the bleachers. This prompted rumors of carbon monoxide in Holy family. Fifty plus students left school because of this incident. Administrators acted quickly and proved that CO was not the cause of illness for students.  

 

In Holy Family’s weekly email, sent on December 5th, parents and students were informed about rooftop units being repaired. Students decided to dress warmer because of this. During all school mass, on Monday, December 9th, four people fell ill. Assistant principal John Dols stated that “the heat was adjusted over the weekend,” which caused a section of students to overheat. The students that fell ill were taken to the school nurse and treated. Over the course of the day over 50 students left school because of illness, but Dols believes that some students left because of “the hysteria of it rather than the reality of it,” meaning that students had centered their fears on carbon monoxide. He was not wrong; some students had left because of the hysteria, but others had taken advantage of the situation. Throughout the day carbon monoxide had been brought up many times.

Graham Miller
Monitors used by VFD to detect dangerous gasses

Students had connected the rooftop unit repairs to CO, but according to Dols, these units were turned off, which means that there was a very small chance of carbon monoxide. CO detectors were used in the gym to eliminate the possibility of the dangerous gas as a source of illness. Dols stated that Holy Family went “above and beyond.” The school had the rooftop units checked by the servicing company, and even called the Victoria Fire Department at the end of the day. By this time, multiple agencies had proven that there was zero possibility of carbon monoxide in the building. In one of three emails sent to parents, the school stated “Rumors started spreading that there were concerns with CO leaking into the building causing students to feel ill.  There was no reason or evidence to support these rumors.  However, as a precaution, the CO levels were immediately checked in the gym and it was confirmed that there were no CO issues. There was and is no evidence to support the rumor that we have high CO levels that would cause students to become ill.” John Dols said that this incident created “a good opportunity to review our procedures and help our community understand a little bit better.” The final thing Dols mentioned is how important communication is in these situations, and in a real emergency, Holy Family will be communicating with staff, students and parents.

 

Victoria Fire Chief Andrew Heger was among the first on the scene at Holy Family. The initial report was that forty plus students had left school ill, and the carbon monoxide levels needed to be checked. Chief Heger met with John Dols and the school nurse upon arrival. An incident size up helped him create a plan so that the firefighters could get straight to work. The ten firefighters on scene used gas detectors that measure the amounts of Carbon Monoxide, Oxygen, and various other gasses. According to Heger “in a carbon monoxide incident, what we are looking for is elevated levels of carbon monoxide, but at the same time we

Graham Miller
Engine 11 is the first due engine to carbon monoxide incidents staffed with four firefighters

watch the oxygen levels because if the carbon monoxide levels get high enough, it actually displaces the oxygen. The monitors are designed to alarm when it reaches preprogrammed limits.” The crews on scene found no traces of carbon monoxide, which confirmed that CO was not the cause of illness. Chief Heger also shared some other information about carbon monoxide and how it has affected the community in Victoria. Time and time again, Heger brought up that health and safety is the number one priority in CO incidents. If carbon monoxide is found, all the Victoria firefighters are medically trained, and their first priority is to treat patients effected by the gas. The next step is to vent the building and fan in fresh air. Lastly the gas company would be called to deal with finding the source of CO and fixing the problem. Chief Heger stated that “we had an incident earlier this year that did kill somebody.” The easiest way to stay safe from carbon monoxide is to make sure to have working detectors, because it is a tasteless, colorless, and odorless gas. An annual checkup on appliances like furnaces and water heaters is also smart. This time of year, it is especially important to keep the furnace vent clear of snow. Chief Heger also mentions to start your car outside the garage rather than inside because gas levels can still build up in the garage, even with the door open. The last thing Heger said, was to always call 911 in a carbon monoxide emergency.

 

The events that took place on Monday, December 9th prompted Holy Family to take action. Administrators took all precautionary steps they needed to assure the health and safety of students. Rumors of carbon monoxide filled the school with over fifty students leaving. This was proven wrong by Holy Family, the rooftop unit mechanics, and the Victoria Fire Department. The ultimate cause of illness was most likely heat levels in one section of bleachers during school mass. Holy Family is using this experience to review procedures for major incidents.