Cincinnati, OH – Cincinnati Post, By Shelly Whitehead – Seven Campbell County Middle School cafeteria workers were taken to hospitals Tuesday morning and more than 1,000 students and approximately 80 staff were evacuated because of potentially deadly carbon monoxide gas in the school’s kitchen.

School Resource Officer Jim Sticklen first called fire officials just after 9 a.m. to tell them he planned to pull the school’s fire alarm because employees detected a natural gas odor, said Alexandria Fire Capt. Eric Oeffler. The school was immediately evacuated, as called for in a newly updated emergency response plan.

School officials soon learned how critical that rapid evacuation was when firefighters arrived and detected not natural gas, but the potentially more lethal, odorless carbon monoxide gas.

“We picked up carbon monoxide,” Oeffler said. “… Our highest elevation for that was when we arrived. We had 48 parts per million, where there’s a rule of 35 parts per million over a one hour period before you start exhibiting symptoms.”

While students and staff were bused to nearby Campbell County High School, seven cafeteria workers were taken to St. Luke Hospital East in Fort Thomas and University Hospital in Cincinnati after they exhibited symptoms of carbon monoxide exposure. Oeffler said all those workers were conscious, but had symptoms including headache, nausea and throat pain.

None of the students or other staff reported symptoms, he said.

Oeffler said the source of the leak was tracked to a gas-powered, stainless steel food steamer in the cafeteria kitchen, which he said was shut off automatically when Sticklen triggered the school’s fire alarm. Oeffler and school officials said the middle school is not equipped with carbon monoxide alarms, although Oeffler said the staff were using hand-held carbon monoxide detectors when firefighters arrived.

Police, fire and school officials said their efforts over the last four months to update the school’s emergency response plan proved invaluable in managing Tuesday’s incident. However, Pryor acknowledged that the lack of carbon monoxide alarms at the middle school would likely be among the topics discussed at a debriefing Tuesday afternoon.

“We have (carbon monoxide) readers, we do not have alarms – although these are all things we are going to be discussing. …” Pryor said.

“It was a dangerous situation, but I think we were ahead of the game in some sense, because we started meeting with county emergency officials a year ago. … So, we actually updated our crisis plan and we were able to have that fresh in our minds and know how to execute it.”