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Jun. 29—A malfunctioning water heater at a Freeport hotel is believed to have caused a carbon monoxide leak that sent four people to the hospital Tuesday morning.
The emergency response to the Comfort Suites was delayed a day because the first call about a possible problem was made Monday to a nonemergency business line at the fire department. As a result, the department didn't get the message until Tuesday morning, Freeport Fire Chief Charlie Jordan said. The incident prompted Jordan to urge people to report concerns about carbon monoxide to 911 or emergency dispatch.
"You have to call your dispatch center, find a business line for them or call 911," Jordan said. "If you have a (carbon monoxide) emergency, that needs to be a 911 call."
Fire crews evacuated the hotel on U.S. Route 1 around 9:30 a.m. Tuesday after a carbon monoxide detector found levels as high as 675 parts per million in one area of the hotel. Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas that can displace oxygen in the blood if inhaled and cause victims to become unconscious and eventually die of oxygen deprivation.
Three people, including two adults and a child, were taken by ambulance to Mid Coast Hospital after an initial evaluation and a fourth person was transported to the hospital in a private vehicle. The three people taken by ambulance were expected to fully recover. "It's just a matter of letting the (carbon monoxide) take its course and get out of their systems," Jordan said. He said the person transported by private vehicle was evaluated and released.
According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, most people will not experience any ill effects from prolonged exposure to carbon monoxide at levels up to 70 parts per million — although those with heart conditions might experience chest pain.
At levels above 70 parts per million, exposure may produce symptoms such as headache, fatigue and nausea. Concentrations above 150 to 200 parts per million may cause disorientation, unconsciousness and death.
The cause of the leak is believed to have been a malfunctioning water heater in a storage room on the first floor. Hotel staff had called the business line of the fire department and left a message Monday about a problem with a carbon monoxide detector in a neighboring hotel room, but Jordan said the department did not receive the message until Tuesday.
A woman at the hotel who identified herself as the manager declined to comment Tuesday. Comfort Suites is a franchised brand of Choice Hotels International. A media contact for the company said she was looking into the situation Tuesday afternoon but did not immediately have any information.
Some rooms in the hotel do not have carbon monoxide detectors, Jordan said, but he also noted the building is under renovation and said additional detectors are being installed.
Christine Yates, who is visiting Maine with her son from Morrisville, Vermont, noticed the fire chief walking outside the building Tuesday morning around 9 a.m. and then heard the alarm warning people to evacuate. Yates said she was feeling fine, and that they were scheduled to check out of the hotel Tuesday anyway.
"I was just starting to go through our stuff and trying to reorganize it for the next leg (of our trip)," said Yates, 53. "Well, now I will wait to do that when we get to our next hotel."
Matt Witham, who was staying in the hotel for business, also heard the alarm and evacuated. He said he wasn't feeling any symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning. Witham was planning to check out Tuesday but said one of his employees was planning to continue staying there.
"I think they're going to get him back in," said Witham, 40. "They didn't say anything to us, but they told me as soon as the levels drop below a certain level, I can go in and get my stuff."
Though the carbon monoxide level dropped to where it was safe for people to re-enter the building to get their belongings around noon, the hotel didn't reopen Tuesday afternoon because workers for a mechanical service company were not able to complete repairs to the water heater because they didn't have the parts it needed.
In all, four local emergency teams responded: Freeport, Yarmouth, Brunswick and Topsham.