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Volunteers treated at hospitals

by Sheila Gardner

Seven East Fork volunteer firefighters were treated and released Monday evening for possible carbon monoxide exposure when they responded to a report of a fire at a Ranchos residence.

Before the night was over, more than 51 people had responded to the incident, including the Quad-County HazMat Team made up of personnel from Douglas, Storey and Lyon counties and Carson City.

East Fork Fire Chief Jim Reinhardt said the occupants of the house – Victoria Aitken and her young son – called 911 at 6:50 p.m. to report a possible structure fire at the 1486 Muir Dr. residence.

“The fire crews went to the front door and began the investigation,” Reinhardt said Tuesday. “The occupants complained of odor coming from the furnace, so the first responders checked for any kind of fire. About 10 minutes into the incident, people were complaining of headaches and sore throats.”

At that point, Reinhardt upgraded the call to a hazardous material incident.

Seven of the first responders were transported, four to Carson-Tahoe Hospital and three to the Carson Valley Medical Center in Gardnerville.

“All were treated and released last night,” said Reinhardt. “Our best guess is high exposure to high levels of carbon monoxide.”

According to Reinhardt, the occupants had trouble with the furnace.

“We were unable to to find any source of carbon monoxide when we did the full-blown haz mat entry,” Reinhardt said.

Reinhardt said the hazardous material team was called out at 7:42 p.m. and arrived on scene by 9 p.m.

“We made entry with Team A whose members are fully encapsulated in their ‘moon suits.’ It took about about an hour to get everybody set up, briefed and into their suits,” he said.

He said the response went better than he expected.

“All the responding teams worked very well together. We knew where everyone was. I couldn’t be happier with the way the East Fork decontamination team used the haz mat trailer to set up the decom line. All the training for the quad county team paid off,” Reinhardt said.

He said the team entered the house and checked the furnace for carbon monoxide and flammable vapors.

“They turned up the heater to see if they could get a new concentration of carbon monoxide, if that was the problem,” Reinhardt said. “Basically, they were unable to find anything really definitive. What we did was close off the structure for the night and advised the property owner they need to get in a service technician for the furnace and have that checked before we will allow occupancy.”

Aitken and her son spent the night in a motel.

“We did allow the occupants to go in Tuesday to change clothes and get the little boy’s homework,” Reinhardt said.

“Our best guess in talking with the occupant is that the fuel oil tank for the furnace ran out. We think when they refueled the tank, it stirred up a bunch of sludge that got into the furnace and blocked the injectors. That could cause a malfunction in the furnace.”

Reinhardt said he was pleased that the occupant called 911 when she smelled the odor.

“Our best advice to anyone who smells an odor is to close up the structure, leave and go to the neighbor’s to call 911. What happened was she opened up the structure which allowed the house to ventilate, so we couldn’t get a good reading.”

The fire chief said no damage was done to the structure in the investigation.

The fire district also imposed a “shelter in place” for the neighborhood which means residents were asked to stay in their homes and keep their doors and windows closed.

“We also established an evacuation about the structure which means you can’t go in unless you have proper equipment on,” Reinhardt said.

He estimated that 51 personnel responded to the incident. That included 35 people from the East Fork Fire District, with volunteers from Ranchos, Fish Springs, Johnson Lane and Topaz Lake fire departments; Douglas County paramedics; four East Fork District office personnel; deputies from Douglas County Sheriff’s Office; Douglas County Search and Rescue volunteers; one person from Tahoe Douglas Fire District; a representative of the Nevada Division of Forestry; two people from Storey County; one from Lyon County; and six people from the Carson City Fire Department.

Reinhardt said the site was cleared by around midnight.

The Record-Courier E-mail: rc@tahoe.com

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