Mass Carbon Monoxide Poisoning at Hendersonville Preschool Exposes Wide-Scale Threat to Those Most at Risk

On Friday February 22, 2019, 66 people from ages three months to 72 years old were treated at local hospitals after exposure to high levels of carbon monoxide poisoning at the First United Methodist Church Children First Preschool in Hendersonville, Tennessee.

Carbon monoxide is a deadly colorless, odorless, tasteless gas produced by burning gasoline, wood, propane, charcoal or other fuel.   According to the CDC, approximately 400 people in the United States die every year from carbon monoxide poisoning.  Children, the elderly, pregnant mothers and unborn children are among the most vulnerable.

The leak was discovered after preschool employees began to complain of symptoms typically associated with carbon monoxide poisoning. Firefighters told news sources that the origin of the extraordinarily high carbon monoxide levels they found had been a result of a faulty damper on the heating system which wasn’t allowing carbon monoxide to escape into the structure.

Like in the case of the Preschool, it’s often improperly ventilated appliances and engines, particularly in  tightly sealed or enclosed spaces that are to blame for accumulating carbon monoxide and subsequent poisonings.

Acute high-concentration carbon monoxide exposure often presents with the telltale signs of headache and malaise, which if treated promptly, often subside after removal from the source of the poisoning.  However, studies have shown that a slow, prolonged, low-concentration leaks can cause a myriad of long-term damage to neurological systems and subsequent mental decline.  In children, who cannot fully articulate how they feel, carbon monoxide symptoms may be difficult to recognize.   

It is unclear whether a complete determination has been made as to just how long and with what intensity the leak had been infiltrating the Preschool and affecting its children, employees and visitors.


Faulty Carbon Monoxide Detector Installation

QUESTION:  Why didn’t the school’s carbon monoxide detectors go off?

ANSWER: Because they didn’t have any.

According to the parents of children attending the preschool, Children First didn’t have any working carbon monoxide detectors, as written by the Hendersonville Standard.

As shocking as this is to most parents, in Tennessee, there is no state law requiring schools, preschools and day cares to install and use, and routinely test carbon monoxide detectors.

New City Code Requiring Carbon Monoxide Detectors in Schools

However, under the city’s newly adopted 2018 International Building Codes which went into effect in November, schools like Children First are required to install carbon monoxide detectors in day care facilities.

In addition these ordinances adopted by the City of Hendersonville, the Tennessee Department of Health (TDOC) has set forth basic guidelines to protect vulnerable students, faculty and staff from carbon monoxide poisoning.  These measures include the facility’s duty to:

  • Install CO detectors in classrooms, hallways, maintenance areas, and boiler rooms. Detector installation will depend on your school building design and its HVAC system- you may need to contact a professional.
  • Develop a CO emergency evacuation and response plan.
  • In case of a CO emergency, follow your fire drill evacuation procedures to move everyone outside.
  • Perform preventive maintenance checks on your HVAC system and CO detectors.

What the CFOC says

Caring for Our Children (CFOC), a national resource for health and safety in child care and early education, provides a collection of the best evidence, expertise and experience in the country on quality health and safety practices and policies to be followed in today’s early care and education settings.  Section under Facilities, Supplies, Equipment and Environmental Health pertaining to Prevention and Management of Toxic Substances in child care facilities states that:

Carbon monoxide detector(s) should be installed in child care settings if one of the following guidelines is met:

a. The child care program uses any sources of coal, wood, charcoal, oil, kerosene, propane, natural gas, or any other product that can produce carbon monoxide indoors or in an attached garage;

b.  If detectors are required by state/local law or state licensing agency:

The section goes on to state that:

Detectors should be tested monthly. Batteries should be changed at least yearly. Detectors should be replaced at least every five years. 



QUESTION: So what can you do to protect your family from carbon monoxide poisoning at school?

ANSWER: Empower yourself with knowledge, ask questions and be vigilant!

As parents, we often assume that our schools have taken due care to protect our little ones, and their employees.  We assume they are following and upholding all federal, state, city and industry-specific safety standards.  But this is not always true.    

Knowing the signs and symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning and teaching your family how to recognize the telltale signs is the first step to protecting them.

Developing a plan of action

For a complete list of signs, symptoms, risk factors and potential complications of carbon monoxide poisoning, click here.

After you review the signs and symptoms, you may consider the following:

  • Know the federal, state, city, and industry-specific laws and standards that govern to your child’s school concerning the installation and upkeep of carbon monoxide detectors.
  • As part of the interview process of a school, ask for a review of the safety and best practices measures the school has in place to protect your children from fire and carbon monoxide poisoning.
  • Do not hesitate to reach out to the school regularly to find out when the last time carbon monoxide/smoke detectors have been tested.
  • If you meet resistance at the school, contact your local authorities, fire department or city council to develop a plan of action for gaining access to detector/compliance information.

Help for Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Victims

At Rocky McElhaney Law Firm, we are committed to helping and protecting those who cannot protect themselves from corporations and businesses that have neglected their duty to uphold the safety of employees and the general public.  We are thankful that everyone admitted after the Children First Preschool scare is now safe and has been released.  However, not having adequate detection at its facility is egregious and unacceptable.  In addition to potentially causing death, the school ran the risk of causing organ damage, brain injury, and other serious and long-lasting health complications to its students, parents, faculty and staff.    

Installing and testing smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors is one of the cheapest and easiest ways businesses can help to prevent catastrophes like what happened at First Children.

If you or a loved one has been hospitalized or has suffered from carbon monoxide poisoning as a result of a leak at a school, a hotel, a home or apartment rental, or any other business, please contact our dedicated lawyers today at 615-425-2500 or contact the firm online. You don’t have to go through this alone.  We fight for you.

Related on carbon monoxide poisoning: