A case of carbon monoxide (CO) exposure in Vancouver sent 13 people to hospital, leaving two of them in critical condition, on Wednesday.
According to BC Emergency Health Services (BCEHS), paramedics were called to the 1600-block of West 5th Avenue just before 10 a.m. with reports of a collapsed patient.
“Our paramedics arrived on scene, when they entered the building their CO monitors had gone off and alerted the paramedics that there was carbon monoxide in the building,” said Jodie Butterman with the BC Ambulance Service.
According to BCEHS, all B.C. ambulance kits have been equipped with CO monitors since 2017 because the gas is otherwise virtually impossible to detect.
“We’ve had many incidences over the last year that we’ve had these pieces of equipment and we’ve had multiple times that our paramedics have been protected by them,” said Butterman.
Butterman said after crews arrived, multiple patients at the scene then began to display symptoms of carbon monoxide exposure.
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Five ambulances and two paramedic specialist units were called to the scene to transport the victims to hospital. BCEHS says 11 of the patients were in stable condition when transported, while two were in critical condition.
Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services says the exposure affected three residences, adding that gas company FortisBC was called in to try and find a source of the exposure.
FortisBC said a technician attended the site and determined a faulty boiler was responsible. They shut the equipment down and cleared the site.
FortisBC added that such accidents can happen when appliances aren’t properly maintained, and said it recommends annual inspections of equipment that uses natural gas.
Carbon monoxide, sometimes called the “silent killer,” is a colourless, odourless gas that, when inhaled, can interfere with the blood’s ability to carry oxygen and can be fatal.
Dr. Bruce Campana with Vancouver General Hospital said the facility had seen a recent surge of CO poisonings with temperatures plunging.
“When the weather gets cold we see a lot more carbon monoxide, but this week has been insane. Seventeen cases this week that I’m aware of, there are many more that I’m not aware of,” he said.
“We’ve had three that we’ve had to treat, one of whom unfortunately is probably going to die.”
The gas can be produced by common household appliances such as furnaces and hot water heaters, and can easily be mistaken for the symptoms of illness, said Campana.
“You may start getting a headache, you may start getting nausea, vomiting, you may get dizzy, but for most people that’s food poisoning, that’s a virus,” he said.
“The trouble is carbon monoxide can make you unconscious before you know it.”
Wednesday’s incident has officials appealing to the public to ensure they have carbon monoxide detectors for every floor in their home, and ideally for every bedroom.
“I think it’s critical that people have carbon monoxide monitors in their home, and their buildings and offices,” said Butterman.
“It definitely save lives. It is really important that we make sure they are in the buildings and we’re checking the batteries once a year. They definitely save lives.”
CO exposure kills about 50 Canadians every year, and alarm manufacturer Kidde Canada estimates that carbon monoxide puts between 20,000 and 40,000 North Americans in the hospital annually.
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