The top of the water heater came apart when one of the system's components failed, filling a mechanical room in a campus dormitory with carbon monoxide that spread through the building, said Salem Fire-EMS Chief Pat Counts.
"When one of the components fails, it'll mess up the whole system," Counts said in announcing the results of an investigation by the Salem Fire-EMS Department
said the water heating system was supposed to shut down if one of the components failed, but didn't.
After the carbon monoxide started leaking, a fan designed to ventilate the mechanical room by drawing outside air into the building created pressure that forced the odorless, colorless gas throughout the building, Counts
The carbon monoxide level was between 200 and 300 parts per million as measured by emergency responders arriving on the scene early Friday morning, Counts
said.Normal levels are between 5 and 9 parts per million, he
said.Federal guidelines limit safe levels to 35 parts per million.Walter Vierling, a 91-year-old retired pastor who died in the dorm, was staying on the first floor and was the closest person to the water heating system, Counts said.
noted that some of the more than 100 people treated for exposure at local hospitals said they had been experiencing flulike symptoms beginning around 10 p.m. Thursday.