When carbon monoxide from a faulty boiler caused dozens of students to fall ill recently at Prussing Elementary School in Chicago, the chief paramedic on the scene ordered immediate evacuation of the school based on the high carbon monoxide readings on her ToxiRAE 3 gas detector from RAE Systems by Honeywell. ToxiRAE 3 is a portable, single-gas detector favored by many municipalities because its high-performance, three-electrode sensor delivers the fastest possible response time to low levels of carbon monoxide.
The quick emergency action may well have saved lives or prevented more severe medical consequences. By the time crews arrived, several people were experiencing symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning, including headaches and nausea; and one child had fainted. Seventy-one children and seven adults were rushed to the hospital. Fortunately, all will be okay.
“Had the paramedic in charge not been wearing her ToxiRAE 3 CO Monitor, the students, staff and Chicago Fire Department personnel would have been exposed to high CO levels for a longer period of time,” wrote Kevin Kirkley, paramedic field chief, in Chief’s Chat, a firefighter’s blog. “Eventually the issue would have been discovered but at an increased risk to the school members and Chicago Fire Department personnel. I write this as a real life reminder as to how our equipment can protect ourselves as well as the public we serve.”
“It was the largest number of children evacuated from a school that I can recall in my thirty-two years of service,” said Deputy District Chief Bob Anthony, who oversees the department’s fleet of gas monitoring instruments and breathing apparatus. “The incident reconfirms my belief in the progressive value of our monitoring instrumentation program and training. One of the proudest achievements of my career is securing new single Carbon Monoxide monitors to all the ambulance companies in the Chicago Fire Department and witnessing the success of this program with incidents such as the school evacuation.”
Two years ago, the Chicago Fire Department adopted a policy requiring that a single-gas monitor be included on all ambulances fire trucks and fire engines. HAZmat and special operations teams within the fire department use a four-gas monitor with a photoionization sensor for detecting a wide range of hazardous chemicals and exotic gases, model QRAE 2. Chicago has up to 240 Honeywell gas monitors in use at any one time.