Improper venting of a boiler led to carbon monoxide poisoning at Winnipeg motel, officials said Wednesday after their initial investigation into an incident that led dozens of people to be treated in hospital.
On Tuesday, 52 people and a dog were at a Super 8 on the west side of Winnipeg when a carbon monoxide alarm went off. Forty-six people were sent to hospital, including 15 in critical condition.
Now that all of the patients have been discharged, investigators are speaking about the cause. Their initial findings point to improper venting at the hotel, officials with Manitoba Hydro and the office of the fire commissioner told reporters on Wednesday.
“It appears carbon monoxide in the building built up because of inadequate ventilation related to gas-fired appliances. Instead of being safely vented, exhaust was being drawn back into the building,” Chuck Steele, engineering and construction director for Manitoba Hydro, said at a press conference at city hall.
“We still have further testing to do to pinpoint why this happened. We have to get this right.”
Chimney exhaust from the boiler was pulled back into the building, said deputy fire commissioner Candace Russell Summers.
Both said their organizations, along with the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service and the Manitoba’s workplace health and safety department, are still investigating.
Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service chief John Lane said the Super 8 passed its most recent carbon-monoxide detector inspection, in 2017.
Summers said she could not yet comment on the type or number of detectors in the motel, or whether they met regulatory requirements.
Guest said he felt sick hours before alarm
A guest who fell sick from carbon monoxide at the hotel believes the poisonous gas had been building up for several hours — long before an alarm went off.
“Clearly, there was carbon monoxide poisoning going on through the night ’cause it was seven in the morning when I woke up with horrible symptoms, so obviously detectors weren’t working properly,” said Dave Montgomery.
The Super 8 had to be evacuated Tuesday morning because of excessive levels of the gas.
The dog, which was staying with one guest, was treated by Winnipeg Animal Services.
Eight fire trucks, along with ambulances and a mass-incident-response vehicle responded after the carbon monoxide alarm in the boiler room went off just after 10 a.m. CT.
The CO levels in the hotel were extreme, as high as 385 parts per million, according to Lane, who noted 10-20 parts per million is when carbon monoxide becomes dangerous.
Montgomery said he got up feeling dizzy and nauseous and suffering from a headache “like a major hangover” three hours before the alarm went off.
He thought his symptoms were from dental work the day before, and booked a followup appointment with his dentist.
“I thought, ‘Wow, I must be having some kind of reaction to that.’ A couple of times I just sort of had to sit down on the couch in the room, like ‘Whoa, what is this?'”
When he explained his symptoms, the dentist told him it was not connected to that work. The dentist allowed him to stay in a room until he felt better, and Montgomery said within a half hour he was vastly improved.
It was only as he was driving away that he heard the news reports.
“These carbon monoxide levels didn’t just go up in the morning, they had to be up during the night,” he said.
A couple of times I just sort of had to sit down on the couch in the room, like ‘Whoa, what is this?’– Dave Montgomery
“Clearly, that’s what it was.”
He said he pulled into a hospital in a small town and got checked over.
He wonders why it took so long for the gas to be detected.
The owners of the Super 8 say they are co-operating fully with the investigation and are extremely grateful there were no casualties.
“This could have ended very badly,” said Karina Bueckert, a spokesperson for the Inn Keepers, a Manitoba-based family-run firm that owns the motel and four other hotels in the province.
Detection devices are not required to be located in individual hotel rooms, just where there could be a carbon monoxide release.
“Anywhere there could have been a carbon monoxide leak, we had a carbon monoxide detector,” she said.
Bueckert noted there was no work being done on the heating and cooling system or anything else at the motel to explain why the CO levels spiked.
“So we’re very interested in hearing what the report [from the office of the fire commissioner] says,” she said.