Columbia State evacuated again after woman faints

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

A student at Columbia State Community College apparently fainted on campus Friday and, given the leak of carbon monoxide eight days earlier, campus leaders took no chances and evacuated the Ellington Parkway building.

"To the best of our knowledge, a student at our Lewisburg campus building fainted..." college spokesman Paul Hickey said. The Marshall County Emergency Medical Service "was contacted, as well as the student's parents. We have been told it is likely the student has a pre-existing medical condition unrelated to any issues with the building.

"At this point, no other students have come forward reporting any other symptoms of illness," Hickey said Friday morning. "We have been told this was likely an isolated occurrence unrelated to any occurrence in the building last week."

However, some students who were tested for oxygen levels in their blood before they were allowed back into the building remained skeptical, especially Mark Claxton of Heil Quaker Avenue who was taken to a hospital on April 8.

"I'm not going back in there - not today" Claxton said. "Last week they transported me to Marshal Medical Center because my levels were at 22.5 percent."

Blood oxygen levels measured Friday by paramedics in a Marshall County Emergency Medical Services ambulance were in the high 90s, according to students speaking after they were tested.

"Marshall Medical Center did have three patients present," said Rita Williams, a spokeswoman for Maury Regional Medical Center, the institution that owns Marshall Medical Center, "but none of those patients had signs of carbon monoxide exposure."

Hickey said, "The Fire Department tested the air and the levels were safe.

"The building was cleared at about 9:45 a.m. and classes resumed," Hickey said at 11:15 a.m. Friday. "Students were given the option of being checked out by EMS responders. At this point, no other students have come forward reporting any other symptoms of illness.

"We have been told this was likely an isolated occurrence unrelated to any occurrence in the building last week."

As a result, Friday's incident seems to have been a result of an abundance of caution out of concern for the previous week's measurement of fumes. A city carbon monoxide gas sensor measured 350 parts per million of carbon monoxide in the building on April 8. Sustained CO levels above 200 ppm can cause disorientation, unconsciousness and possibly death while 9 ppm is an acceptable level.

"I'm still feeling the effects from last week," Claxton said Friday. "The doctor said 'That's normal,' but last week there was a lot of nausea feeling and it was like your head was being twisted from both directions. It was like you got a hangover before you started drinking."

Claxton said he was taken to the hospital with one of the campus maintenance men and several days later - Claxton named Wednesday, April 14, carbon monoxide detectors had been installed.

"I have one in my house," he said. "It's a $10 piece of equipment that could save your life."

Two girls being tested in one of the ambulances on campus Friday morning said they wanted to go to the hospital and shortly thereafter they were transported.

Meanwhile, Paige Lewandowski of Chapel Hill and Brieanna Clark of Lincoln County were healthy. They were in a social studies class when somebody came to the door and advised their teacher they'd be evacuated.

"How ironic," Lewandowski said of studying social problems when they were evacuated.

Lewandowski is a senior at Forrest High School taking college classes at CSCC.

A measuring device was clipped to the students' fingers and a built-in light was beamed from one side of the clip to the other to measure oxygen saturation in blood cells, according to Steve Callahan, an assistant director of the EMS.

Vietnam War veteran Glenn Butler of Cummings Circle said, "I don't want to be triggered to a flashback...

"They assured us that it was fixed," Butler said. "I've got the e-mail that classes were cancelled Thursday and Friday," April 8 and 9.

Classes weren't cancelled last week, but Butler said it was campus administrator Elizabeth McDow who came to his classroom calling for evacuation, and then, "We knew it was an emergency.

"If I had children coming here, I'd want them protected like that," Butler said. "They do look after our best interests. They assured us that it was fixed. Prayerfully, they'll get it worked out. I think it will be all right."

Blaze Prince reported her blood oxygen level at 96 percent. Tabatha Jenkins said hers was 99 percent.

Claxton said his was 97 percent Friday, up 74.5 percentage points in eight days. He also said he'd spoken with a Columbia-based attorney about his circumstances.

Hickey estimated the "timeline" of Friday's incident at "approximately 8:45 to 9:45 a.m."

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