When two Oak Park firefighters were called to a Chicago Avenue laundromat earlier this month, the woman they were going to treat had all the visual signs of a stroke.
The 50-year-old was very shaky and slurring her speech, said firefighter Matt Kohler. She was weak, confused and had difficulty walking when Kohler and firefighter Bill Towler arrived at the laundromat around 2 p.m. on Jan. 3.
But thanks to a recently-purchased detector no bigger than the palm of a hand, the firefighters were able to determine the real problem—carbon monoxide poisoning—up to an hour sooner than they would have without it.
Fire Department Deputy Chief Kenneth Klemm said the department bought the three detectors for about $150 each in September after he read about them in a trade journal. The journal had a story about a patient with unknown symptoms that was similar to the situation at the laundromat, he said.
Unlike the bigger detectors they had been using before, the newer ones can clip onto firefighters’ medical bags. The others were kept in ambulance glove boxes.
“You turn them on and forget about them,” Klemm said.
That’s what happened when Towler and Kohler got to the laundromat that day.
“As soon as we walked in we heard some alarms going off,” Towler said. When he was told the sound was coming from his bag, he noticed the reading on the alarm was 400 parts per million. The detectors are set to go off at 35 parts per million.
“It allowed us to actually see what was going on and properly treat her,” Kohler said.
The firefighters evacuated the building, which had between 10 and 20 people inside at the time. They used another monitor on the woman’s fingers to determine the carbon monoxide concentration in her blood. It had reached 45 percent.
Once they were outside, the firefighters gave the woman oxygen and she was eventually taken to Loyola University Hospital in Maywood to be treated. Another woman treated at the scene did not want to be taken to the hospital.
Towler said the patient would not have been diagnosed until a half hour or an hour later at the hospital without the detector, but he said he and Kohler would have still gotten the call.
“We would’ve been back there at least within a half hour with a lot more people having the same kind of symptoms,” Towler said.
Klemm said the incident was the second time the new alarms had activated. The first time was a couple weeks before at the ice rink at Ridgeland Common.