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Heater leaks CO, sends 14 to hospital

Additional information has been released concerning a hotel pool heater blamed for the carbon monoxide exposure that put more than a dozen people in hospitals near Columbus, Ohio, in January.

On Jan. 29, a carbon monoxide exposure incident in the pool area of the Marysville Hampton Inn sent 14 people, including six children, to Marysville area hospitals – about 30 miles from Columbus. Officials said two were stabilized in critical condition, five were stabilized in serious condition, and four were treated and released from the exposure event.

The incident began around 5:30 p.m. on a Saturday when the first reports of unconscious people at the hotel were called in. The first call was in reference to an unconscious 2-year-old girl.

Fire department first responders arrived at the Hampton Inn to find carbon monoxide levels at or about 1,100 to 1,300 parts per million in the pool area and on the first floor, and concentrations of 600 parts per million on the second floor and 500 parts per million on the third floor. According to Marysville Fire Division Battalion Chief Cole Tomlin, carbon monoxide concentrations at these levels can be lethal if you are in that setting for too long.

Inspector Bradley Merillat with the State Fire Marshal's office was among officials who did a follow-up inspection of the hotel on Jan. 31.

While investigators had immediately suspected the pool heater as the source of the exposure, this inspection revealed that a plastic bag blocking the heater’s air intake is what caused the high carbon monoxide levels.

According to a report from a State Fire Marshal's Office inspector, hotel management said that maintenance crews had been working on the pool heater. The hotel’s general manager, Justin Graham, said that the pool water temperature had been going down and maintenance was in the process of switching the spa heater to the pool heater. When maintenance attempted to switch the water heaters, “an issue occurred with blowing a fuse(s) and required another maintenance person to come from another facility,” the report said. Maintenance staff personnel were able to get the heater working on Jan. 27 – two days before the exposure event.

Merillat also found that a carbon monoxide detector was installed near the pool but that it failed to activate. He plugged in a new device, which alerted immediately upon a functioning check. However, Ohio's fire code does not require hotels to have carbon monoxide detectors in pool areas of hotels.

For unrelated reasons, the pool area at the hotel was not supposed to be open at the time of the incident. Union County had ordered it closed for repairs on Dec. 13 due to the absence of chlorine in the pool, floor tiles that were caving in, and other issues.

In the report, Merillat said no authorization was obtained to begin using the area.

Other issues at the hotel had been found in recent months. In June 2021, the Hampton Inn was cited for several violations of the fire code, including fire doors being propped open, an unlocked fire alarm panel breaker and dry sprinkler system, and the lack of permanent wiring used to power electrical outlets.

After the Jan. 31 inspection, Merillat's report said the hotel received another citation concerning an expired building department permit and unapproved worked done to the electrical and plumbing systems.

According to an article appearing in The National Law Review, each person who suffered carbon monoxide poisoning at the Marysville Hampton Inn has a potential claim for personal injuries against the hotel owner and management.

Furthermore, the article states that in some cases, the negligence lies with an outside contractor in addition to the hotel. Outside contractors and maintenance people who service the pool equipment and heating systems have been held liable in other cases. A thorough investigation will be required to determine the source and the responsible party.

At the time of the incident, members from the Teays Valley Youth Wrestling program were staying at the hotel because they were competing at the Central Ohio Buckeye Youth Wrestling Association tournament the following day. The team won the tournament and dedicated its win to the injured.

Fortunately, the incident resulted in no fatalities.

Carbon monoxide alarms have been readily available since 1989, but there is no uniform requirement for the lodging industry to install them. Visit www.thejenkinsfoundation.com/contact.

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