Brent Brooks was light-headed when he woke up in a Winnipeg Super 8 hotel on Tuesday morning. His wife and 15-year-old son were both feeling nauseous.
Mr. Brooks left his room briefly to have a coffee and cigarette; by the time he returned to his family, they were feeling much worse. He phoned the front desk to extend his stay, but instead he was told to get his family out of the hotel immediately. "They said, ‘No, we’re evacuating.’ ”
The Brooks family were among dozens of hotel guests and staff members who were taken to hospital Tuesday morning after a leak in the boiler room sent dangerous levels of carbon monoxide into the building. Guests reported feeling short of breath and nauseous. Some were vomiting and needed to be wheeled out on stretchers.
A total of 46 people, including two children, were transported to nearby hospitals, 15 of them in critical condition. Most were released by the end of the day and fire officials said they expected everyone to survive.
Alex Forrest, a captain in the Winnipeg Fire Department and president of the United Fire Fighters of Winnipeg union, described the leak as a “nightmare scenario,” but he was relieved it wasn’t far worse.
“We’re in an area where we have a very quick response of firefighters,” he said. “We were able to be here within minutes."
The carbon monoxide level in the hotel was 385 parts per million – 15 times higher than what Health Canada considers the limit for short-term exposure but well below what would be fatal.
Steve Brglez, the acting platoon chief of the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Services’ EMS unit, told reporters that determining when carbon monoxide levels could be fatal “certainly isn’t an exact science” but he said adults in good health could experience headaches after spending an hour exposed to 500 parts per million. After two hours at the same level, a person might experience nausea, a lack of co-ordination or skin reddening, he said.
“Then the symptoms increase in severity after that and it goes on to include collapsing,” Mr. Brglez told reporters Tuesday afternoon, adding that levels of 1,000 to 4,000 could kill an average adult in 30 minutes to an hour.
It’s not clear what exactly caused the carbon monoxide leak, something that typically happens in cold months that require more indoor heat rather than in the middle of the summer. The Manitoba Office of the Fire Commissioner is investigating.
Mr. Brooks’s family was taken to hospital for treatment and returned to the hotel later in the afternoon.
“I don’t think this is anybody’s fault,” he said as the family packed up their belongings just before dinner to head to a motel down the street.
Hotel owner Justin Schinkel told reporters that the Super 8 had recently passed a fire inspection and has never had a carbon monoxide leak before.
“It’s the worst imaginable feeling, all of a sudden, something bad like this happens, you don’t know the extent of it,” Mr. Schinkel said. “We’re just super happy that the first responders are so helpful and they’ve been able to get here so quick and help us out here.”
Karina Bueckert, director of business development and marketing at Inn Keepers, which owns the Super 8, said the motel’s general manager was among those taken to hospital.
“She’s still in hospital but she’s doing well,” Ms. Bueckert said Tuesday afternoon. “She is getting better. Her vitals are all starting to stabilize, so we are all very grateful for that.”
Manitoba Hydro said its crews also responded, shutting off gas lines and starting ventilation of the building. The utility company is also helping with the fire commissioner’s investigation now that the hotel has been reopened.
“We typically see [carbon monoxide] emergencies at the beginning of the heating season caused by furnaces that are either not properly maintained or venting safely – not in July,” Manitoba Hydro spokesperson Bruce Owen said in an e-mailed statement.
“We encourage all homes and businesses heated by a natural gas furnace to have a [carbon monoxide] alarm installed on all floors, and especially in or near bedrooms so that a problem can be detected before people are poisoned.”
With reports from Mike Hager and The Canadian Press
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