Faulty Pipe Leads to CO Poisoning

Tuesday, December 8, 2015 @ 03:12 PM gHale

A corroded furnace pipe is the culprit for 23 Elkhart County RV factory workers ending up in the hospital Monday, fire officials said.

Forest River employees at plant 6 near Middlebury, IN, showed symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning, said fire investigators.

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All but one worker released from the hospital by late afternoon, said a spokeswoman for Elkhart General Hospital.

“On the way up there [dispatchers] said, ‘We have 142 patients,'” said Middlebury Fire Chief Jeff Wogoman. “Yeah, that’s a lot of people. We do train for it so we kind of have a plan in place. We know we have a bus company in town that we can transport multiple patients if needed.

Some of the 142 workers at the plant complained of everything from headaches and nausea to lethargy. Others had an “altered state of consciousness,” Wogoman said.

The workers began production at 5 a.m. Monday. The first person began feeling sick about 15 or 20 minutes later but the 911 call didn’t come in until 7:12 a.m., the fire chief said.

When firefighters arrived, everyone had evacuated and opened doors for ventilation. All the carbon monoxide detectors were going off inside the RV units built in the plant, Wogoman said.

When the first call came in, Elkhart General called in extra respiratory, emergency and critical care staff anticipating a possibly large number of patients, said Beacon Health spokeswoman Maggie Scroope. But most of those workers went home a short time later.

Ambulances took five patients to Elkhart General, a Cardinal bus transported 12 more to the hospital and six others received treatment on their own.

“They had a furnace that was providing heat for the factory,” Wogoman said. “The exhaust pipe had come down into it and rusted it at an elbow so it had a big opening in the exhaust pipe.”

He also said it put exhaust into the building over the weekend.

When firefighters went inside the building, their carbon monoxide detector readings were zero, but that was likely because the building had already ventilated by the time fire crews got there.

Wogoman said CO levels were probably pretty high in the building, given some of the symptoms workers had.

The fire chief also said the plant closed Monday for furnace repairs, but Forest River would not confirm that. The company would only say the incident is under investigation.