Dec 19, 2015 4:12 PM
KEENE - State and local safety officials set up a command center and declared a level 2 mass casualty incident over carbon monoxide concerns, after a problem with the gas mixture developed at a nearby production facility belonging to Liberty Utilities.
Residents called in multiple reports of gas odors, but fire officials say there's been no indication of any leaks, nor did testing reveal any levels of explosive gas.
However, firefighters did tell people to beware of carbon monoxide and to check on their neighbors if they live within an area of roughly two square miles around the downtown.
"The Fire Department has responded to 80 calls for service related to today’s incident. At least three people have been transported for symptoms of exposure to carbon monoxide and there are reports that two patients went to the ER of their own accord complaining of similar symptoms of carbon monoxide," a statement from the fire department reads.
The problem at the utility plant created a gas mixture known as "high BTU gas," according to Liberty Utilities spokesman John Shore. The gas mixture does not burn as efficiently as the normal mixture and gives off more carbon monoxide.
As part of the level 2 warning, hospitals were contacted and asked to prepare for the possibility of multiple patients suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning. Fire departments and ambulances throughout the region also were called to assist. The state Fire Marshal's Office and the state Public Utilities Commission also responded.
By Saturday afternoon, firefighters began visiting all the affected addresses to ensure residents were safe. As of 5 p.m., they had been through about 15 percent of the 1,250 customers affected and uncovered no problems. They were also working to restore gas service to customers where the gas had been temporarily shut off.
The Red Cross, working with city officials, will be opening a warming shelter at the Keene Recreation Center, 312 Washington St., for anyone without heat as a result of this incident.
The area affected by the bad gas mixture extended from Main Street out to Route 9 and the Monadnock Marketplace and on the east side for about six to seven blocks. Many local businesses were affected and some were reportedly closed for the day as a result of safety concerns.
Shore confirmed the company was working to address the problem, which developed after a power problem at the plant on Saturday morning.
"If anyone is experiencing headaches, dizziness, nausea or spots before the eyes, please open windows and get to fresh air immediately. Customers should call 911 if they suspect elevated carbon monoxide levels or gas odors in their home or business," Shore said.
Symptoms include headaches, dizzyness, weakness, nausea and visual problems like seeing spots.
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