Dozens of people were treated for carbon monoxide poisoning Sunday after the toxic gas was detected in a Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints meetinghouse in central Utah.
"You don't want to believe something bad's happening," said member Clint Wirick. "Everybody's just like, 'All coincidence.'"
According to the Sevier County Sheriff's Office, emergency medical services were called to the Monroe East LDS chapel for two separate patients. The first was a 4-year-old girl who was having breathing problems. She had been sick earlier in the week, so it was believed that she was experiencing lingering symptoms from that illness. Then about an hour later, EMS were called to the church again for a man who was feeling sick. He believed he was just having complications from low blood sugar and "sought treatment on his own," the sheriff's office said.
Later that day, a family reported that they all had headaches when they returned home from church. The Monroe City Fire Department then went to the building, where they detected high levels of carbon monoxide. The building was then evacuated.
"There's just a lot of pieces of the puzzle that all lead toward something's going on," said Wirick.
The sudden uptick in attendees' sickness prompted Wirick to call dispatchers.
"I had a friend who just lost his best friend from carbon monoxide. He, a month ago, was telling me all about it. That was in the back of my head, just make the phone call," he said.
Officials said that throughout Sunday evening, multiple people became sick and went to the Sevier Valley Hospital to seek treatment. A church spokesperson said 54 people in total reported symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning. Of those, 49 were treated, and 22 of them needed to be transferred to other hospitals for further treatment. These patients needed to go to hospitals with hyperbaric chambers, the sheriff's office said.
Neighboring agencies helped Sevier County EMS with the hospital transfers, which required 10 ambulance transports and more personnel than the county had on hand. Several other patients were able to self-transport.
Sheriff Nathan J. Curtis thanked the various agencies and the EMTs who helped take care of the poisoning patients, all while responding to other unrelated incidents in the community as well.
"It's kind of cool living in a small town where everybody's looking out for each other," said Wirick.
A statement from the church said the leak was caused by a malfunction in the building's heating system. The exact cause of that malfunction is being investigated, and the building will remain closed until it's determined to be safe.
"The church is working to support medical and other expenses for those affected. We are concerned for the well-being of everyone impacted and are praying for their recovery," the statement read.
According to the CDC, more than 100,000 people across the U.S. visit the emergency room each year because of carbon monoxide poisoning.
"Talk to other people when you don't feel good because if there's a group of you all not feeling good at the same time, look at the evidence," said Wirick.
This story was originally published by Emily Tencer and Spencer Burt at Scripps News Salt Lake City.
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