A cell pod as seen through security area at WCDC. (Press file photo/Tony Duncan)
A local security firm will examine the Washington County Detention Center to determine what kind of carbon monoxide detection system is needed after nearly two dozen inmates were sickened by the invisible gas this past weekend.
A carbon monoxide leak from a malfunctioning gas-powered water heater at the jail early Saturday sickened the prisoners and a guard, according to Washington County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Leighta Laitinen.
“We have smoke detector and fire alarm,” Laitinen said. “We just want to add the carbon monoxide factor to it.”
Fleenor Security representatives were scheduled to be at the jail Tuesday morning.
“The maintenance supervisor and the jail administrator have been going through the facility, they’ve made the phone calls to the people, the necessary people, that we need to come in and look at it,” Laitinen said Monday morning.
Officers became aware of the problem Saturday after several inmates began complaining about headaches and nausea, Laitinen said. Fifty-one inmates in the two cell blocks were immediately removed from the affected areas - some into a recreational yard and others into booking - and treated with oxygen as needed, she said.
One inmate was unconscious and was taken to the hospital, but returned a few hours later.
The officer who got sick had a bad headache but was OK, Laitinen said. The officer was given oxygen on the scene.
Laitinen said that to the knowledge of anyone at the jail, carbon monoxide detectors are not required, and none were installed at the jail.
Tennessee Corrections Institute passed the jail on a recent inspection.
“And to my knowledge, nothing was ever mentioned about carbon monoxide detectors,” she said.
The jail would need a carbon monoxide detection system that would tie in with the fire alarm system, Laitinen said.
She said the state fire marshal inspected the water heaters, and the one that malfunctioned is only about a year old.
“The system that went faulty on us is shut down,” Laitinen said. “I’m not turning it back on until I have one (carbon monoxide detector) in place.”
There are actually two big water heaters that supply those two jail pods where the leak occurred, so there is still one functioning water heater for those inmates.