Manitoba

Winnipeg hotel had no carbon monoxide detectors during leak, probe finds

A Winnipeg hotel had no carbon monoxide detectors on site at the time of an accidental leak that sent 46 people to hospital this summer, a provincial investigation has found.

Inspectors wrongly classified other equipment as a CO detector, fire chief says

Forty-six people were taken to hospital following a carbon monoxide leak at a Winnipeg Super 8 hotel on July 9. All survived. (Daniel Gagne/Radio-Canada)

A Winnipeg hotel had no carbon monoxide detectors on site at the time of an accidental leak that sent 46 people to hospital this summer, a provincial investigation has found.

Fire crews, paramedics and the city's major incident response vehicle responded to the July 9 leak at a Super 8 on the west side of Winnipeg. There were 52 people and a dog in the Portage Avenue motel at the time. Forty-six people were sent to hospital, including 15 in critical condition, but all survived. 

The leak was accidental, the Office of the Fire Commissioner said in a release Friday. Its source was a hot water boiler, which was venting in an area that allowed the carbon monoxide to be pulled back into the air exchange system and circulated throughout the hotel, instead of being safely vented.

Carbon monoxide monitors used by Manitoba Hydro and Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service crews found dangerously high readings ranging from 65 parts per million on the main floor to 190 in the basement where the mechanical room is located, and 380 parts per million on the third floor.

Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning may start to appear at levels above 70 parts per million, while levels above 150 parts per million can cause unconsciousness or death, according to health officials

According to the province, the hotel did not have any carbon monoxide detectors in place at the time of the incident.

The Manitoba Fire Code requires carbon monoxide detection and warning equipment be installed in hotels because of the risk of exposure.

Latest inspection wrong

The province says hotels are inspected on a 36-month cycle, and the Super 8 was last inspected in May 2018. The city's most recent inspection determined the hotel complied with all requirements.

But that was an error.

Chief John Lane from the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service said on Friday that city workers incorrectly classified a piece of equipment at the Super 8 in past inspections.

The office of the fire commissioner says the leak was accidental, but there were no carbon monoxide detectors on site at the time. (CBC)

"It was determined that what had been classified as a carbon monoxide detector in 2018 and again immediately following the incident was in fact a different kind of detector — a flammable gas detector," he said.

Lane said it took bench testing of the detector to reveal the error.

"As soon as we learned that the detector was in fact a flammable gas detector, we immediately audited all of our inspections in all the hotels in Winnipeg to make sure that the appropriate carbon monoxide detection was present," he said.

A number of other hotels in the city that had been routinely inspected and passed their inspections at the time were found in the audit to not be up to code, Lane said. 

InnKeepers said in a statement Friday that the company has inspected all its properties to confirm their hotels have CO detectors.

Since the leak, the company said it's introduced additional fire inspections, reviewed emergency plans with staff, ensured the hotels meet building and safety code regulations and confirmed regular evacuation drills are being conducted.

A wider problem

Manitoba Municipal Relations Minister Rochelle Squires added there were misunderstandings and confusion between the Winnipeg fire prevention branch and the office of the fire commissioner over the need for CO detectors in hotels, which led to approximately 25 per cent of motels and hotels in the province passing inspections without CO detectors.

She said these misunderstandings are over discrepancies between Manitoba fire and building codes that were written in 2011.

"This incident underscores the need for clarification between and a review of the inspection processes between the office of the fire commissioner and the City of Winnipeg," she said Friday.

"Our government is taking action to ensure that fire codes and building codes and carbon monoxide requirement is being enforced and working to ensure compliance throughout the province of Manitoba so people's lives will not be put in danger."

Squires added the fire commissioner has clarified all hotels and motels are in compliance with the code.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rachel Bergen is a journalist for CBC Manitoba and previously reported for CBC Saskatoon. Find her on Twitter at @r_bergen or email her at rachel.bergen@cbc.ca.

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