The Best Western Night Watchman motel evacuated guests as a precautionary measure on Sunday evening after high levels of carbon monoxide were discovered in the pool and lobby area.
Kiowa County 911 received a call at about 3:10 p.m. on Sunday from a desk clerk at the Night Watchman after a group of local 4-H children and parents, who were attending a Christmas party at the motel, reported having severe headaches and feeling nauseous.
Kiowa County EMS, Kiowa County Sheriff's Department and Kiowa County Fire Department all responded to the call.
"When the fire department arrived they determined that there was a gas leak," said Night Watchman owner Ron Wright, who was out-of-town on family business at the time. "All of our rooms are electrically heated, but the pool is not. We narrowed it down to the pool's heater. We shut [the heater] off and I believe that within minutes the levels had been reduced."
Wright said he believed it was not a mechanical failure of the heating system, but a combination of the exhaust system design and heavy winds may have caused the leak.
Kiowa County Fire Chief Jay Koehn would not release the exact detected levels but said that the carbon monoxide readings taken by his department were "high" and concentrated in the enclosed indoor pool area and adjacent lobby.
Wright said he believed none of the rooms in the hotel were affected by the leak. He said the evacuation was precautionary and they began renting rooms within a few hours.
Front desk attendant and Haviland resident Debby White called 911 when children and adults began complaining about feeling ill.
"Our front desk did an amazing job," said Wright. "When you train from a manual you can cover emergency situations, but you can't teach that emergency instinct. Debby and her staff did a super job. I have nothing but positive things to say about them."
Repairmen from 5 Star Mechanical, a Wichita firm, were at the motel on Monday morning to evaluate the heating system.
Wright said they had not made any recent repairs or modifications to the heating system, although they had been looking into installing a dehumidifier to reduce condensation in the pool area.
City Administrator Ed Truelove confirmed the building had passed inspection prior to its opening in fall 2010 and that such inspection would have included mechanical and HVAC systems such as the pool heater.
Kiowa County EMS Director Chad Pore, Rosa Spainhour and two additional EMT's responded to the 911 call, spending approximately 10 minutes at the motel before transporting about 10 people to the Kiowa County Memorial Hospital for treatment.
Pore said that some parents and children had already left for the hospital before they arrived.
Page 2 of 3 - The county hospital is located across the street from the motel.
"When we arrived there were still about 15-20 people on location that may have been exposed," said Pore. "Our immediate goal was to remove them from the location and get them to the hospital where they could receive treatment. Fortunately most of the symptoms we saw were headaches, some nausea and perhaps some difficulty breathing and not symptoms like the cherry red skin. We didn't see symptoms that indicated a possible fatal amount of exposure, which was very fortunate. No one was unresponsive; we didn't see any seizure activity, which are bad signs. From our standpoint, there were still people that needed treatment but we didn't feel there was anybody that was critical."
Carbon dioxide poisoning occurs when high levels of the scentless, tasteless and initially undetectable gas are inhaled for prolonged periods of time.
Small amounts in the air can produce mild symptoms within a few hours, while higher levels can cause death within minutes.
"From what I have gathered some of the kids started to not feel very good and the adults recognized very quickly that something was going on," said Pore. "I think they had a bunch of people showing up that felt OK, and within a matter of minutes they felt something wasn't right. That really benefited everyone the most, that they recognized it quickly."
It is estimated that exposure varied from a few minutes to upwards of an hour.
Some guests arrived between 2 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. for a 4-H meeting and some arrived between 2:30 p.m. and 3 p.m.
"I'm thankful that there was a group of people there. Not because more people got sick, but my fear is one person taking a swim and getting seriously injured," added Pore. "Or if there hadn't been a party at all and the gas builds up and leaks into the entire hotel while people are sleeping. Had they not found out when they did, it could have been a lot worse down the road."
Kiowa County Memorial Hospital Administrator Mary Sweet said the hospital treated 34 people for symptoms relating to the leak.
The hospital didn't transfer anyone to a critical care facility and everyone treated was released the same day.
Treatment for non-critical carbon monoxide poisoning is prolonged high volume oxygen.
Rhonda Brown a 4-H parent who had been at the party and was treated at the hospital said on Monday that as far as she knew the children and parents were all recovering and feeling better.
"We were really lucky that the kids got out of there and everyone is OK," said Brown. " The hospital, the EMS, the fire department was wonderful to us. We basically bombarded them and they did great. I have a little bit of a headache today, but otherwise I feel alright."
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