Five people including four guests of Jorgenson's Inn & Suites in Helena were transported to St. Peter's Health for carbon monoxide exposure late Thursday night, after a leak was found emanating from the hotel's pool heater.
Helena Fire Department responded to the call around 7:30 p.m. Thursday. Fire Marshal Lou Antonick said the responding firefighters "had a hunch" the incident involved carbon monoxide.
"They started to realize right away what they were seeing," Antonick said, adding that carbon monoxide-related incidents are a regular occurrence in the area as people use fuel-burning appliances.
The hotel guests' flu-like symptoms, flushed skin and lethargy tipped off firefighters almost immediately. Five individuals were treated at St. Peter's Health and released Friday afternoon, according to hospital spokeswoman Katie Gallagher. Gallagher declined to release the names of the patients per hospital policy.
The crew evacuated the hotel and began ventilating it Thursday night.
Jorgenson's General Manager Ann Marie Bowers said a guest called 911 when the person's child became ill. Bowers said four guests were staying at the hotel during the time of the incident.
"The guests went to the restaurant and had pie and coffee while we waited," Bowers said.
Firefighters searched not only Jorgenson's but also the adjacent apartment complex connected to the hotel via the parking garage and pool areas.
Antonick said the crew spent about five hours on the scene and was aided by St. Peter's Health and NorthWestern Energy.
During the sweep of the hotel, Antonick said, they did not locate any carbon monoxide detection devices, which are legally required for commercial buildings like Jorgenson's.
"We did not find any carbon monoxide detection in place," he said. "That's not to say they didn't have one, but we did not find any to my knowledge."
Bowers confirmed the business was warned about the infraction during last year's fire inspection. She said the business then purchased the wall outlet plug-in style carbon detection devices in the hallways near the elevators, but that they had since been stolen. She said the devices' disappearances went unnoticed until yesterday's incident.
"We're working with the city and fire department on installing a hard-wired carbon monoxide detection system in the hotel and apartment building," she said. "It'll be an expense that is justified after last night."
Helena's Director of Community Development Sharon Haugen said in an email Friday that she "did not find any records of previous carbon monoxide complaints in the building file."
Bowers said she was at home when she was alerted to the incident, rushed back to work and stayed until the fire department left.
The Helena Fire Department issued a news release Friday detailing the incident.
"At the present time, the cause of the incident appears to be an issue with ventilation of the exhaust from the gas fired pool heater," the news release states. "That heaters and the gas feeding them have been shut off until repairs can be made."
Once the carbon monoxide was eliminated from the structure and the building was completely ventilated, hotel guests were allowed to return to their rooms.
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