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Off-Duty Firefighter Saves Diners From Carbon Monoxide Death

Photo from the River Ridge Taphouse website

An off-duty firefighter in North Carolina thought quickly on his feet, saving the lives of dozens of residents from deadly carbon monoxide poisoning at a restaurant.

Lonnie Wimmer, a firefighter from the Lewisville Fire Department, was at a birthday party held at the River Ridge Taphouse in Clemmons on Sunday, when he and the other guests began feeling nauseous and getting headaches.

LFD Assistant Chief Steve Williams told PEOPLE magazine that Wimmer immediately called his fire department and reported what he thought was a carbon monoxide leak. Several ambulances responded to the call, and all patrons were evacuated from the restaurant. At least 30 of them showed signs of carbon monoxide poisoning, and 16 were transported to local hospitals.

Williams said that they found “significant levels” of carbon monoxide in the building, caused by a malfunction in River Ridge Taphouse’s heating unit that brought on the leak. Dawn Vanorden, the restaurant manager, told the Winston-Salem Journal that the unit was repaired on Saturday, so the venue was opened on Sunday.

Williams added,

Even though it was a fairly large incident, I think [Wimmer’s] early recognition prevented it from being more serious than it could have been for those exposed to the carbon monoxide.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless gas produced by burning fuel in small engines, vehicles, stoves or ranges, grills, fireplaces, lanterns, or furnaces.

Initial symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include headaches, dizziness, weakness, vomiting, upset stomach, and chest pain. Inhaling copious amounts of the gas can lead to death.

Williams said, “Anybody that has fuel-burning equipment, or burns fireplaces, gas logs, gas hot water heaters, gas furnaces – anything that uses fossil fuels, so to speak, has the chance of having – like this restaurant – a malfunction in the equipment.” He further explained, “The danger is, it truly is a silent killer. You can’t smell it, you can’t tell that it’s there. Unfortunately, you just start having symptoms, and the symptoms are very similar to flu symptoms.”

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