Four firefighters and two retirement home employees were sent to a hospital following a gas leak Tuesday evening at a retirement home northeast of downtown Spokane.
Two stations from the Spokane Fire Department responded to an active fire alarm at about 7:30 p.m. at a building on the Riverview Retirement Community campus at 1801 E. Upriver Drive. There, they discovered a leak.
Riverview CEO Charlie Tirrell said the building’s air conditioner, which is located in the basement with other mechanical systems, was venting an inert gas. That gas activated one of many sensors in the building, which triggered the automatic alarm that summoned the fire department, he said.
Fire Chief Brian Schaeffer said the gas was R-22 refrigerant, which is commonly known as Freon.
“It created an oxygen-deficient atmosphere in an enclosed space,” Schaeffer said.
The firefighters who went into the basement to check the alarm had their breathing masks and air tanks hooked to their backs, but weren’t wearing face masks because no smoke was visible, Schaeffer said.
“The atmosphere appeared clear and they were responding to an alarm,” he said.
Firefighters regularly respond to false fire alarms that have been triggered by dust or a faulty sensor. They typically don’t wear their face masks unless smoke is visible, Schaeffer said.
The firefighters experienced dizziness and became lightheaded. The symptoms did not go away when they went back outside, so they were taken to a hospital.
All the firefighters have since been released and are expected to recover fully.
Tirrell said his two employees were evaluated at the hospital and released. “The fire department insisted that the employees who went into the basement be sent to the ER,” he said.
A portion of the facility was evacuated of 72 residents and another area was cordoned off, the release says. No residents were injured or exposed to the gas.
The department’s hazardous materials team verified that the leak had stopped and the air was clear before the residents were allowed back into their rooms.
“I really support the fire department taking all the precautions they did,” Tirrell said.
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