Students at Law Enforcement Academy Are Lucky, Doctor Says

DES MOINES, Iowa -- 76 students at the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy were taken to the hospital and treated for carbon monoxide Thursday morning after a security guard noticed a strong odor of gas coming from the dorms.

There were 81 students in the dorms at the time of the incident.

While carbon monoxide does not give off a smell on its own, other gasses used in furnaces, for example, do.  Doctors say if you can smell gas, there's a chance carbon monoxide is leaking as well.

“If there hadn't been someone paying attention and recognizing this, those students wouldn't have been in class. That's when we would have noticed it” said Dr. Katrina Guest.

Guest, a pulmonary doctor at Methodist, says with high levels of carbon monoxide found, quick action likely saved lives.

“Usually it's 10 to 15 minutes that you go down and it's probably another 10 to 15 minutes that you can die from it” she said.

Luckily students started breathing fresh air quickly after the building was evacuated with the vast majority taken to the hospital. Three students taken to Mercy were placed into hyperbaric chambers where they could receive higher levels of oxygen. Oxygen is the only treatment for CO poisoning.

“Just breathing oxygen at the scene, before you get here washes out a lot of the carbon monoxide. It's when it's deep and penetrated in your tissues from high level of exposure over long periods of time that you need to go into the hyperbaric chamber” said Dr. Guest.

While some students were also placed on standard oxygen masks, Director of the Law Enforcement Academy Judy Bradshaw says others were sent to the hospital even though they didn’t show symptoms.