At approximately 1200 hours, Friday, October 14, two firefighters stopped to get lunch at the Subway in the 9900 block of Greenbelt Road. When working in the fire department, it is not always possible to sit down and eat at the firehouse so the firefighters have to eat when they get a break. After walking in to the Subway to order lunch, the portable carbon monoxide (CO) detector that the firefighters were carrying went into alert status. Since 2015, all radios assigned to ambulances in Prince George’s County have been outfitted with CO detectors that are constantly monitoring atmospheric conditions for the presence of CO. This is extremely helpful when responding to a call for someone with unknown medical conditions and it is just another tool for the firefighters to solve the many emergencies they face. These two firefighters, F/F Betts and F/F Acala, recognized the seriousness of the CO alarm and called for additional resources.
The second arriving unit, E818 from Glenn Dale verified the presence of CO and was able to get a numerical reading of the exact parts per million (PPM). This reading was in the serious health hazard zone and they immediately upgraded the emergency to a full hazardous materials (HAZMAT) response. Firefighters from E812, College Park, were then able to enter the stores in full gear with their Self Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA) due to the high concentration of CO. Readings in the back of the stores were even higher than the initial readings from the first arriving engine company. Going store to store in full gear and SCBA, the firefighters were able to find the source of the CO leak. An exhaust vent from the boiler/HVAC unit had broken and was venting CO directly into the stores rather than up and into the atmosphere. Firefighters were able to shut down the boiler/HVAC and used portable fans to bring down the levels of CO to zero. Luckily there were no injuries or complaints from civilians on the scene as it appeared the boiler/HVAC had just turned on for the day. Just to be sure the issue would not crop up again later in the day, Washington Gas company responded to the scene to turn off natural gas to the building, until the unit could be repaired properly.
It is important for people to understand the risks of CO poisoning in the home and at work. Especially now that hurricane season is upon us. Check your vents from your dryer and learn the symptoms of CO poisoning. If you lose power, make sure you run your generator outside and away from any windows. DO NOT run it in your garage or outside your bedroom window. If in doubt, or you feel the effects of CO, call 911 to be sure. Or you could just invite FF Betts and Acala over for lunch.
Mike Linynsky, Battalion Chief 882
Prince Geoges County Fire EMS Department
Bowie, Northview Station 816