Eleven people were treated at area hospitals after New London emergency workers found high levels of carbon monoxide in an apartment building.
Shortly after 6 a.m. Sunday, Oct. 30, New London Fire Department responded to a 16-unit apartment building in the 500 block of Oakridge Lane. An ambulance that arrived earlier that morning reported four people were ill in one apartment.
Firefighters that were first on the scene found carbon monoxide levels as high as 615 parts per million inside one of the apartments. The basement measured as high as 1,115 parts per million.
New London Assistant Fire Chief Dick Muskevitsch said carbon monoxide of 50 parts per million is considered the maximum allowable level for an eight-hour period. A level of 400 parts per million may cause death within two to three hours.
The firefighters immediately began to evacuate the entire building. Many times firefighters found people seriously ill inside their apartments.
During the evacuation, they found a 15-year-old girl unresponsive in her bed. Syndi Lind gave this account of what happened to herself and her daughter, Maggie.
“We had been out most of Saturday, and returned to our apartment by late afternoon,” Lind said. “We watched some TV and then a funny thing happened – I fell down while walking across the room.”
Lind said she thought it was odd, but brushed it off to being a “clutz.”
“I’m a smoker, and I guess carbon monoxide doesn’t affect us as much, because we breathe it in when we smoke. Maggie and I were planning on carving pumpkins, but we both felt really tired, and went to bed,” Lind said.
Lind said that Maggie woke up around 3 a.m., announcing that she was going to be sick. After her episode, she felt better and returned to bed.
“Then, at 6 a.m., my landlord called and said we needed to get out of the building.” Lind said. She went to her daughter’s room and woke her. As her daughter was attempting to get dressed, she kept falling down. “And finally she couldn’t get up, she just leaned her head against the wall.”
It wasn’t long before rookie firefighter Chris Ashline entered the apartment and assisted Maggie.
“I wouldn’t have been able to get her out of there by myself,” said Lind. “I was so thankful when I saw Chris and then two other guys come in and carry her out for me.”
Lind praised all the firefighters from the department, explaining that they were very caring, polite, kind and helpful to everyone.
“It was like a movie scene once we got out on the lawn,” Lind said. “It was still dark out, and there were so many people sitting on the curb all bent over, lying in the lawn, being helped by firemen. They took a lot of us in their trucks and gave the worst off oxygen and whatever they needed until the ambulances arrived.”
Lind wanted to praise the emergency personal more than once. “We felt very cared for and I can’t say enough about how Chris and all those firefighters were there for us.”
Once the tenants who needed assistance were transported to the hospital, including Maggie, Lind was sitting with her daughter when they had a visitor. It was Chris Ashline, checking on Maggie.
“I was so happy and grateful to see him again so I could thank him,” said Lind. “Then he told us he was just a rookie and that he hoped he had done enough. I told him he did more than fine in our book. Chris saved my daughter’s life,” Lind stated.
Fire Chief Bart Roloff said that Ashline is an excellent rookie, very professional for his young age. He attributed that to Ashline’s military experience. Ashline is an active guard member, previously serving time overseas.
Roloff said he was proud of the entire department, that all the volunteers and emergency personal worked together.
“I couldn’t be happier with the way we executed this rescue,” said Roloff.
Assistant Fire Chief Muskevitsch recounted the morning. He said that actually on Saturday an ambulance was dispatched to the same apartment building for an elderly lady complaining of illness. At 6:08 a.m. Sunday morning, a non-emergency call came in, asking to investigate four subjects ill inside one of the apartments.
Once the fire department was called in, first on the scene were Muskevitsch, Captain Don Conat, and Engineer Brett Roloff. Conat zeroed out the carbon monoxide monitor before entering the building, and a measurement inside the building was 190 parts per million.
The firemen, to be sure of the reading, zeroed out the monitor a second time, and entered the building. The number registered higher yet.
“We knew then we had a serious situation, and started knocking on doors,” said Muskevitsch. The first door was Syndi Lind’s, who had a non-responsive daughter. We called in extra units to help once we had eight patients just in the first hallway.”
Five ambulances from New London, Bear Creek, Manawa, Clintonville and Fremont transported ill patients to New London Family Medical Center and Riverside Medical Center in Waupaca. Three patients were taken to St. Elizabeth Hospital in Appleton, where a hyperbaric chamber is located. This unit is designed to force the carbon monoxide out of the blood.
Roloff believed that a broken exhaust pipe on a water heater in the basement was the probable source for the carbon monoxide leak in the building.
“We’re 99.1 percent certain that this was the case,” said the chief. “The apartment building received an inspection just prior to the mandatory carbon monoxide ruling. We would have covered the building in our next round of inspections.”
On Monday, Fire Inspector Mark Wilfuer met with apartment owner Richard Bohman, who had the apartment’s water heater repaired earlier in the month. Wilfuer found that the building was minimally within department standards for carbon monoxide detectors. Bohman will now install detectors in every apartment.
“Rick’s a good guy and an excellent landlord,” said Lind.