CO2 leak prompts Kings Point evacuation

CO2 leak prompts Kings Point evacuation

Officials from several local fire and police departments coordinated an effort to evacuate 225 United States Merchant Marine Academy cadets, while treating 42 midshipmen who became ill on Sunday night due to a carbon monoxide leak in two of the Kings Point institution’s dormitories.

“Some of the Merchant Marine midshipmen were complaining of headaches,” Kings Point Police Department Commissioner Jack Miller said on Monday. “It was later determined that they had a water-heater problem, a heating system problem, that was emitting carbon monoxide.”

After Merchant Marine Academy Emergency Medical Services personnel evacuated the students in Barry and Jones halls into a nearby auditorium, 39 students were transported to local hospitals and three refused treatment, Great Neck Alert Fire Company Chief Raymond Plakstis said.

The Nassau University Medical Center in East Meadow treated 20 of the students, while eight were transported to North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, seven were sent to Winthrop University Hospital in Mineola and four were life-flighted to Jacobi Medical Center in the Bronx, Miller said.

“They evacuated the building, got them all over into an auditorium and then Vigilant and Alert did their usual great job of checking the aided out,” Miller said. “Apparently they could tell from some type of reading who needed to go to the hospital.”

Shelley Lotenberg, a Nassau University Medical Center spokesperson, said the 20 patients treated at the hospital were released early Sunday morning.

The eight patients treated at North Shore University Hospital were also released by 3 a.m. Sunday morning, hospital spokeswoman Emily Ng said.

Representatives from Winthrop University Hospital and Jacobi Medical Center did not return telephone calls seeking comment.

“As far as I know, nobody was taken out on stretchers,” Miller said. “Everybody was conscious, primarily dizzy and headaches. The good thing is that it happened at (about) 10 o’clock at night and not two or three in the morning when people tend to sleep through this and it ends up killing them.”

A release from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Maritime Administration, which oversees the Merchant Marine Academy, on Monday said that “all midshipmen were permitted to return to their rooms by approximately 10:30 p.m. Sunday evening.”

“All midshipmen were able to attend regularly scheduled classes on Monday morning,” the statement read.

At 9:04 p.m. on Sunday, Alert received a call that “approximately 15-20 people” were claiming to be ill from the carbon monoxide fumes, Plakstis said. He said Vigilant received a call simultaneously requesting ambulance service at the academy.

“Some three minutes later I arrived on scene to find that the Kings Point Merchant Marine Academy EMS evacuated most of Barry Hall to the auditorium, at which time we turned around and went in with meters and found that there was an extremely high carbon monoxide level,” Plakstis said.

Carbon monoxide levels in the building ranged anywhere from 58 to 210 parts per million, Plakstis said.

Alert protocols state that any carbon monoxide levels registering higher than 30 parts per million are considered dangerous, Plakstis said.

“It was going for quite some time,” Plakstis said of the leak. “We don’t know if it was one unit or all three hot water heaters. We’re leaving that up to the experts at the academy. Their maintenance crews are going to be working on it. But once we shut down the hot water units, the CO levels started to drop.”

“We vented everything out,” he added. “By the time we got (back to the station) it was 11:33 p.m.”

The Merchant Marine Academy campus has a “unique building configuration,” which utilizes an underground system for steam heating, which helped spread the carbon monoxide between Barry and Jones halls, Plakstis said.

“The heating system is unique to the academy, that it’s a steam-based system and it’s generated not in the dormitory site,” he said. “It’s piped in, so the heat was there. The only thing that was shut down was the hot water heaters to the building. At roughly about 11 o’clock the dorms were available to be restocked.”

Vigilant Fire Company First Assistant Chief Laurence Jacobs said that his department evaluated all of the students who were evacuated from the two buildings.

“We were the (medical lead agency) for this event,” Jacobs said. “We were coordinating the triage of patients, the transportation of patients and the tracking of patients.”

Along with Vigilant and Alert, fire departments and ambulance services from Port Washington, Manhasset-Lakeville, New Hyde Park, East Williston, Garden City and the Nassau County Police Aviation Helicopter No. 5 all responded to the scene.

“It was very well coordinated,” Miller said. “It was very well staged. Being on the police department side, looking at the fire department, I was very impressed on how coordinated the two chiefs from the two different departments had it put together.”

Jacobs also credited the coordination between Vigilant and Alert as being critical to the effort that saw all of the students escape serious health concerns.

“The two fire companies in Great Neck have really worked together for the last 100-plus years,” Jacobs said. “It’s a relationship that’s an important one and being able to work together we know is crucial in providing the emergency services to our community.”

“Last night’s event, I think, highlighted our ability to coordinate our efforts,” he added. “For each agency to be able to shine in the moment, while they were called to duty.”

Added Plakstis:”There was super cooperation between the Vigilants and us. We’re a first-responder agency. We turn around and take care of the patients and then they pick them up and transport them to the hospital. With everything going on, the interdepartmental operations were great. It was fantastic.”

For Miller, the event served as an important reminder for residents about the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning. He said that all homes should have carbon monoxide detectors and that college students should have them in their dorm rooms.

“It’s dangerous,” Miller said. “You go to the Home Depot now, you can just buy these things and plug them into an outlet. It’s that silent killer. People aren’t aware of it. Young people, they should really have these things in their room.”

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