Carbon monoxide at Morris Corrections sends dozens to hospitals

An ambulance waits by the visitor parking at Morris Corrections Center on Monroe Terrace and Water Street in Dover on Tuesday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

An ambulance waits by the visitor parking at Morris Corrections Center on Monroe Terrace and Water Street in Dover on Tuesday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

DOVER – A problem with the heating, ventilation and air conditioning system at the Morris Community Corrections Center on Tuesday morning caused 68 offenders and one Department of Correction employee to be taken to area hospitals with symptoms of carbon monoxide exposure.

Two offenders and one correctional officer were admitted for further observation and treatment. Many offenders have already been cleared by medical staff and retured to the Morris Community Corrections Center.

Dover Fire Department received an emergency call at 9:13 a.m. Tuesday after receiving reports of individuals experiencing breathing difficulties at the Morris facility.

Jayme Gravell, spokeswoman for the state Department of Correction, confirmed that a boiler malfunction led to a carbon monoxide leak at the facility, located at 300 Water Street in Dover.

“It was something to do with the boiler,” Dover Fire Chief Carleton “Buck” Carey Jr. said. “We just know there was a problem with the ventilation system. Chesapeake [Utilities] found two particular leaks on one particular boiler.”

The boilers in question have been shut down and a mechanical contractor was on site Tuesday making repairs and assessing the boilers, which passed an inspection by the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control on Aug. 11, 2015, and were not due for re-inspection until May 2017.

Chief Colin T. Faulkner, director of the Kent County Department of Public Safety, said the majority of offenders were taken to Bayhealth’s Kent General Hospital in Dover and several others went to Bayhealth’s Milford Memorial Hospital.

Ambulances and emergency workers with the Leipsic and Magnolia Fire Departments and Prime Care transported many of those exposed to the carbon monoxide to the hospitals while a prison van took the remaining individuals for diagnosis and care.

“I think there was a mechanical issue with the HVAC system,” Chief Faulkner said. “It is such a commonplace thing, especially in the wintertime, that field paramedics carry a CO2 [carbon dioxide] detector hooked on their drug bag `and were able to pick it up.

“In this case they were called for a person ill of some sort and were called back after the CO2 was found. Eventually things were put together and they realized there was a situation in the facility.”

Chelsea D. Hicks, spokeswoman for the state Department of Correction, said that medical staff at the Morris Community Corrections Center identified several offenders displaying symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning at around 9 a.m.

The MCCC is a 150-bed Level IV probation facility in Dover that specializes in housing substance abuse treatment patients and work release offenders.

DOC maintenance staff will monitor the carbon monoxide levels for the next 48 hours. An engineering firm is scheduled to be on-site at MCCC at 8:30 this morning to make a complete assessment of the boiler room mechanical area.

Chief Faulkner praised the emergency workers and staff at the Morris Community Corrections Center and hospitals who all dealt with the situation.

“They made sure each individual affected got the appropriate medical care before they were sent back [to the corrections center],” he said. “It’s a real challenge for a correctional facility with these kinds of circumstances.

“[Those affected] had to be evaluated, basic tests run and returned to facility. When you have 55 patients show up on the doorstep of a hospital, it doesn’t happen right away.”

Delaware State News staff writer Mike Finney can be reached at mfinney@newszap.com.

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