Springfield Gas Leak: ‘Little device has already paid big dividends’

Fire crews evacuated more than 100 residents of Springfield Towers Wednesday morning after a faulty heating system was blamed for sending unsafe levels of carbon monoxide fumes into the building.

Crews were called to the East High Street apartment complex around 6 a.m. for a woman who had fallen and couldn’t get up. But when they entered the building, carbon monoxide detectors crews had on their medic bags started going off, revealing extremely high levels of the gas.

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One hundred and thirty residents, many of them in pajamas, were evacuated from their apartments while the leak was contained. Springfield City Area Transit buses were called to the scene to house residents so they could stay warm while they waited to go back inside.

The first floor of Springfield Towers was ventilated first and some residents were able to wait in the complex’s community room. Residents like Judy Wolfenbarger said she was glad everyone was evacuated when they were.

“It’s not shocking — it’s reassuring,” she said.

Springfield Fire Rescue Division Battalion Chief Jeremy Linn said they evacuate buildings when the amount of CO in the air is 35 parts per million (ppm). The levels detected in Springfield Towers reached as high as 150 ppm — that’s more than enough to kill someone if they’re exposed to it long enough.

Linn said the department just started using the detectors in December.

“This little device has already paid big dividends for us here in the city of Springfield,” he said.

Linn said the source of the leak was traced to a heat exchanger on the roof. The exchanger was pulling CO gas into the main hallways, and the gas was seeping under apartment doors.

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He said a heating and air company were working on the exchanger on Tuesday, but it’s unclear how long the gas was leaking before it was detected. Residents were let back into their rooms after a few hours.

A company worked to restore heat to the main hallways, but residents did have heat in their rooms while work was being completed. Columbia Gas was on scene to assist.

Assistant Fire Chief Matt Smith said Springfield Towers doesn’t have its own CO detectors. He said when the building was constructed, having those detectors wasn’t a requirement.

“They were fully in compliance with all the building codes at that time,” Smith said.

But Smith said the State of Ohio’s fire code was changed in 2017 to make those detectors a priority in residential buildings, educational buildings and hospitals. People are still not required to have CO detectors if they own their homes, even though it is recommended.

“Say you have a three bedroom apartment. Every sleeping area would have to have one nearby it, unless they call came together at a certain juncture point,” he said.

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But for anything to change at places like Springfield Towers, the City of Springfield has to adopt the state’s fire code.

Smith said that can be a long and frustrating process that needs to go across a lot of desks before it takes effect. He’ll be working with other city agencies to get the details ironed out.

“That is still in the process and we’re actually hoping to have it adopted come February,” he said.

He said the incident at Springfield Towers on Wednesday was a wake up call for why the change is needed.

“This is an odorless, tasteless, colorless gas. You’re not going to know anything about it,” Smith said.

Smith said no one will be cited for the gas leak, and he’s just thankful that this time, everyone was OK.

Two people were taken to the hospital in response to the incident. One of those people was the woman who fell down and the other person was taken because of anxiety they were experiencing due to all of the commotion.

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