Roanoke College CO Task Force Recommends New Procedures, Installation

Published: November 6, 2006

ROANOKE, Va. – Roanoke College will be implementing several new measures designed to prevent a repeat of the carbon monoxide (CO) leak that occurred on July 14 in the Sections dormitory that killed a retired Lutheran pastor and sickened more than 100 others.

The college formed a task force responsible for reviewing the accident and making a number of recommendations related to creating safety procedures and practices in the event of a carbon monoxide leak and educating people about the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning. The task force recommended conducting weekly inspections of mechanical rooms, developing detailed floor plans of every building and improving coordination of evacuation procedures.

The task force’s report also made mention of the new carbon monoxide detection system installed by the college shortly after the July 14 accident. They found the system, which cost $50,000, to not be as reliable as they had hoped. According to a 2002 study by the Gas Technology Institute, carbon monoxide detectors are prone to issuing false alarms and can fail to detect dangerous carbon monoxide levels. The new detectors have already caused two false alarms, according to a college spokeswoman.

Roanoke College will be installing a more advanced carbon monoxide detection system. The new redundant system will be integrated into the fire alarm system, which will emit an alarm when the CO detectors detect the gas.

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The college is not the only organization overhauling its practices and procedures. The Salem Fire-EMS department failed to check two rooms in the Section dormitory when the CO leak occurred. Three hours after the initial check, the firefighters returned to find 91-year-old Walter Vierling dead in one room and two others close to death in the other. The department is now collecting floor plans from all high occupancy buildings, such as hospitals, schools and hotels.

The department has also developed new procedures for conducting building searches. Firefighters will radio back to command after each room they check is cleared, and a supervisor equipped with the building’s floor plan will confirm that no room has been missed.

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