MANITOWOC, Wis. (WBAY) – A carbon monoxide leak in downtown Manitowoc sent 17 people to hospitals Monday morning.
Four of them are undergoing treatment at St. Luke’s in Milwaukee using a hyperbaric chamber.
Investigators are still on the scene in the downtown area, trying to determine the origin and the cause of the leak.
Emergency crews blocked off 1104-1112 Washington Street with caution tape. Buildings in this area include the cafe, Manitowoc County Republican Party headquarters, an appliance store, a jewelry store and a former paintball store.
Manitowoc police and fire departments were called to the 1100-block of Washington Street around 9:15 a.m. when a family in an upstairs apartment was feeling sick and called 911.
The carbon monoxide level was dangerously high when first responders arrived and the building was evacuated.
Nine people living upstairs and seven in the cafe were able to get to safety on their own, but the fire department had to break down an apartment door to save the life of a person inside, who they found unconscious and carried out of the building.
“They were able to force the door open and do a quick search of all the rooms once the individual was removed,” Fire Chief Todd Blaser said.
Holy Family Memorial in Manitowoc says it received 11 patients. The other six went to Aurora hospital in Two Rivers. Eventually four were sent to St. Luke’s, including one patient who was airlifted. None of the hospitals is releasing the patients’ current conditions.
Blaser says he’s hopeful everyone will recover.
Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless gas that can be deadly. Transporting 17 people from a toxic situation like this is something agencies here weren’t prepared for.
“We’d spoken about this being a mass casualty incident. Basically what that is to the fire service is that Manitowoc Fire and Rescue Department resources were overwhelmed. You’re not necessarily built on your staffing to deal with 17 patients that need medical treatment. I should state that not all were what we consider to be critical in nature,” Blaser said.
Kelly Reif’s mom owns the café and was among those sent to the hospital.
“They weren’t feeling good, her and co-worker. A little bit of time passed and you know, they were feeling a little bit worse. Then, all of a sudden an ambulance pulled up front and about that time is when they realized there was something else going on. We aren’t sure who called the ambulance, but I have a feeling it was one of the apartments,” said Reif.
Reif added about the extent of his mother’s injuries, “Her and one of her co-workers they had to go in the oxygen chamber for 4-6 hours this afternoon. Oxygen levels, everything is good, the carbon monoxide is out of their system. They will have a chance to go home a little later tonight.”
We spoke over the phone with the vice chair of the county’s Republican Party. She says nobody was inside their office Monday morning during the incident. There was somebody in the building Saturday but that person didn’t get sick or notice anything out of the ordinary.
The property is owned by Wisconsin Assembly Rep. Paul Tittl. We contacted Tittl but did not receive a response.
The fire department isn’t saying whether a carbon monoxide detector was in use, though Blaser took the opportunity to say carbon monoxide detectors are as important as smoke detectors, especially as the weather turns colder and people close the windows and turn up the heat.
“The prevention that a carbon monoxide detector gives a family is just remarkable,” Blaser said.
Ten people were living in four apartments above the Republican Party headquarters and Susie Kay’s Cafe next door. Blaser said the Red Cross will help them find other housing for the time being.