Carbon monoxide poisons youth at retreat in Jamestown church

Five people were transported to Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis following exposure to carbon monoxide early Friday morning, according to Bill Kennedy, spokesman for the Jamestown Hospital.

Carbon monoxide poisoning
John M. Steiner / The Sun Jamestown Police Department Officer Nicole Anderson assists a child Friday morning at First Congregational United Church of Christ in downtown Jamestown after 30 children and three adults were exposed to carbon monoxide while sleeping at the church during a retreat.

Five people were transported to Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis following exposure to carbon monoxide early Friday morning, according to Bill Kennedy, spokesman for the Jamestown Hospital.

Middle- and high-school students as well as adult chaperones from across the state were participating in a youth retreat held Friday at First Congregational United Church of Christ in downtown Jamestown. The retreat was scheduled to last until Saturday.

The five transported to Minneapolis were the most seriously affected by the carbon monoxide. To help them recover, doctors in Minneapolis treated them in a hyperbaric chamber, Kennedy said.

A hyperbaric chamber provides a pure-oxygen environment at an elevated pressure that helps get toxins out of the body. According to the HCMC's Web site, the facility has a large multi-person hyperbaric chamber for treating patients.

In addition to the five transported to Minneapolis, Jamestown Hospital expected to keep three retreat attendants overnight for observation as of Friday afternoon, Kennedy said.


Kennedy said none of the injuries were life-threatening.

The incident, which was caused by a problem in the ventilation system, was reported by the Rev. Susan Lester, FCUCC pastor, at about 8:25 a.m.

"It was reported by the pastor," said Jim Reuther, Jamestown fire chief. "She did it all by the book."

Lester, one of three adult chaperones at the retreat, was sleeping in her office when her alarm woke her at 8 a.m. She used the restroom, changed her clothes and attended to a boy who complained of headache and nausea.

"That's when I actually heard my own daughter in our hallway," Lester said.

Her daughter, 11-year-old Kylie Lester, had climbed the stairs from the basement where the girls slept, to the ground level where Lester's office is located.

Lester said she believes Kylie was looking for her mother, to tell her something was wrong. As Kylie walked up the stairs however, she likely fell, hit her head and passed out. And Kylie wasn't the only one.

"I saw more girls passed out," Lester said.


Twenty-eight other students and two other chaperones were asleep in the church.

Lester asked the group who felt sick.

"Everyone in the room raised their hand," said 17-year-old Brianna Netzer of Mandan.

Lester said her first thought was food poisoning. She called 911.

Reuther said the original call requested ambulances and fire personnel for about 10 people who were vomiting and nauseous in a possible carbon-monoxide situation.

Dispatchers from the Law Enforcement Center told her to evacuate, Lester said.

"When our firefighters got there, they analyzed the area and found carbon monoxide readings of 379 parts per million about 10 feet in the door on the main floor," Reuther said. "We decided at that point to make sure the building was evacuated."

He said readings of more than 50 ppm are considered a hazard. Three hours in an environment with 400 ppm is considered a life-threatening exposure, Reuther said.


"It was fortunate nothing more serious happened," he said. "We're very fortunate this wasn't a much worse situation."

Jamestown Ambulance and Jamestown Fire Department transported the students to Jamestown Hospital.

"We brought in eight people," said Nancy Miller, manager of Jamestown Ambulance. "Three were in bad shape as far as consciousness goes. Quite a few required assistance getting out of the building."

Once at the Jamestown Hospital Emergency Room, extra medical personnel assisted in treatment.

"We had a number of extra doctors and nurses step in," Kennedy said. "It was pretty obvious when fire trucks start pulling up to the ER something big is happening."

Kennedy said four of the youth were feeling well and not treated at the emergency room. For the rest, the parents were notified while medical staff assessed the situation and performed treatment.

Brianna, a student from Mandan, N.D., and 16-year-old Jenessa Whitmore of Bismarck were treated at Jamestown Hospital where medical professionals placed gas masks over their faces.

Jenessa had called her mother to tell her she was OK, Jenessa said.


Within seconds of the call, Jenessa fainted.

Jenessa said she had a headache that lasted until about 3 p.m., but otherwise, firefighters, hospital personal and other caretakers helped her and kept the students calm.

"I guess they made it so we weren't really afraid," she said.

Jenessa's mother, Paulette Whitmore, arrived in Jamestown Friday afternoon to pick up the girls. The girls, still in their pajamas, said they were feeling better.

"We're all feeling great because we want to go home," Paulette Whitmore said.

Other students stayed in a hospital conference room while they awaited parents and guardians, Lester said.

"It was very efficient from the fire department and the ambulance through the doctors and nurses who came from the clinic to help," Kennedy said. "Everything went very well."

Of the five transported to Minneapolis, one of them was Lester's daughter, Kylie.


Doctors said Kylie will likely be fine, Lester said. But medical professionals wanted to reduce the levels of carbon monoxide in her blood at a faster rate than Jamestown Hospital could, Lester said. Kylie's father, Jim Lester, drove to Minneapolis to be with her. Lester's parents also live in Minneapolis.

Susan Lester was recouping at home with her 15-year-old daughter, Ainsley Lester, Friday. Ainsley had also attended the retreat.

Kylie and Ainsley were the only two students from Jamestown at the retreat.

By Friday afternoon, parents had picked up most of the 27 other students, Lester said.

According to Reuther, carbon monoxide detectors are not required in Jamestown.

"As far as we can tell there were none installed in the church," he said. "But this is a great indication as to why they should be used."

Lester agreed.

"It's not the best way to find out but we learn sometimes the hard way that we should have carbon monoxide detectors," she said.


The church is closed until future notice.

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