Six people were hospitalized and four were treated at the scene Monday after being exposed to dangerously high levels of carbon monoxide in an apartment building in Gorham.

Fire Chief Robert Lefebvre said there were no carbon monoxide detectors in the building at 147 Plummer Road, and only two smoke detectors, which were not working.

Lefebvre ordered the building closed until code violations are corrected. He cited the lack of carbon monoxide detectors, inoperable smoke detectors, exits blocked with snow, a cracked basement boiler that was leaking carbon monoxide, and snow blocking the boiler’s air intake valve.

Lefebvre said he was unable to provide the Portland Press Herald with the name of the building’s owner, but said the owner has been made aware of the situation.

Lefebvre said there could have been fatalities, if not for one resident of the building who recognized symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning. The chief said firefighters recorded a level of 107 parts per million, more than three times the accepted level of 35 parts per million. Residents said they began having symptoms of nausea and dizziness on Friday.

All of the people who were hospitalized were expected to be released Monday night, Lefebvre said. Three of the victims were children, but Lefebvre did not know their ages.


“Until those violations are resolved, we are not going to reopen the building,” Lefebvre said. “There is no question the source of the leak was the boiler.”

Lefebvre said a maintenance man found a crack in the boiler that had leaked carbon monoxide into the building. He said 15 people live in the building, which has six apartments.

Another apartment building on the same lot was unaffected by the gas leak and did not need to be evacuated. That building is not attached to 147 Plummer Road.

Lefebvre said a person who lives at 147 Plummer Road notified authorities around 2:30 p.m. Monday that he suspected he had been exposed to carbon monoxide.

WCSH-TV reported that the resident went to the other apartment units to check on residents and asked if they were feeling ill. Several residents reported similar symptoms of nausea, dizziness and headaches.

Emergency dispatchers activated what is called the Strike Team to draw in equipment, in this case ambulances, from a wider circle of communities. Emergency dispatchers summoned ambulances from towns including Scarborough, Buxton Windham, Standish, Buxton and Windham.


After the fire chief shut down the apartment building, the American Red Cross responded by placing three families in hotels, said spokesman John Lamb. The remaining residents found alternative accomodations for the evening, he said.

Lefebvre said he notified the state Fire Marshal’s Office, which is helping Gorham investigate the alleged code violations. The owner could be charged if the violations are not corrected.

Lefebvre and the state fire marshal’s investigator will meet Tuesday morning and inspect the building, a farmhouse that was converted to apartments.

Carbon monoxide is toxic to humans in concentrations that exceed 35 parts per million. The best treatment for exposure is to leave the building and get fresh air.

Andrew Smith, the state toxicologist, said in an email Monday night that about 100 emergency room visits are linked to carbon monoxide poisoning in a typical year in Maine, and there are one to five deaths.

“The most common causes are faulty furnaces, working on engines in enclosed spaces, and improper use of gasoline powered generators,” Smith said. “The current outbreak of poisonings related to blocked exhaust vents over the past 11 days is very unusual. We have not seen anything like this in the 6 years we have been investigating causes of carbon monoxide poisonings in Maine.”


Smith said 18 people have been affected by five recent incidents of carbon monoxide poisoning caused by blocked vents.

He said that, under state law, rental units are required to have carbon monoxide detectors.

Timothy Nangle, a spokesman for the Portland Fire Department, said that since Jan. 26, the city’s fire department has responded to nine incidents involving carbon monoxide exposure. Nangle could not be more specific as to whether anyone was taken to a hospital for treatment.

Nangle said it is important for property owners to clear snow from any outdoor heating vents, providing at least 3 feet of space for ventilation.

Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning mimic the flu. They can include nausea, fatigue, vomiting, headache, dizziness and shortness of breath.

Staff Writer David Hench contributed to this report.

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

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