AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin-Travis County EMS Chief Rob Luckritz said their biggest concern is carbon monoxide exposure, after having to transport four patients to San Antonio for treatment over the past day.
EMS said Thursday night, they responded to a carbon monoxide exposure incident involving eight patients in northwest Austin. Of the patients, six were adults and two were children.
According to EMS, the remaining five patients were evaluated and refused EMS transport.
In a press conference on Friday morning, ATCEMS assistant chief Wes Hopkins said the patients were part of one family, running their car in their garage to keep warm.
“The garage door was open about a third of the way,” Hopkins said.
But it wasn’t enough– he said medics rushed three family members for treatment: One teen was taken to Dell Children’s with non-life threatening symptoms, and one adult and one child were airlifted to University Health Hospital in San Antonio for “with serious carbon monoxide symptoms requiring hyperbaric treatment.”
In an update on Friday evening, Chief Luckritz said two additional patients had to be airlifted to San Antonio after another incident involving a generator in a garage.
Dr. Brent Jones specializes in that treatment at the same hospital.
“The reason that someone would have to get transferred from Austin, is because there’s not a facility that offers emergency hyperbaric there,” Jones said.
He said that’s needed in the most serious cases of carbon monoxide poisoning.
“What that involves is getting inside the chamber, where we apply oxygen at increased pressures…that allows us to get extra oxygen into the system, which helps wash out the carbon monoxide that’s in there,” he explained.
Jones said there are only two of these chambers in the entire state: his hospital and Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas.
“It’s unfortunate that access to emergency hyperbaric treatments is extremely limited,” he said.
Especially because a person doesn’t need to breathe in the colorless, odorless gas for long to need one.
“The first symptoms are sort of vague; People get headaches, people have nausea, they think maybe they’re getting sick. And then they go from that to being unconscious,” Jones said.
Hopkins said ATCEMS has responded to 10 calls for carbon monoxide poisoning involving 32 patients so far during this ice storm.
He said most involved people running generators in their garage.
That number increased drastically by Friday evening.
“Since this morning, the number of carbon monoxide responses that we’ve had has more than doubled,” Chief Luckritz said.
After the February 2021 storm, EMS said they responded to 86 carbon monoxide exposures.
With more cold nights coming up and thousands in Austin still without power, Hopkins urges people to stay warm by dressing in multiple layers of lightweight, warm clothes and blankets, and keep everyone together in one room.
“Do NOT use stoves or ovens to heat your home,” Hopkins said.
He also said using generators or grills in enclosed spaces can also be deadly, even if you’ve got your window or garage open.