GUNNISON – Over 60 people attending a youth hockey tournament in Gunnison last weekend, including members of the U19 Telluride Lizard Head girls hockey team, were treated for prolonged exposure to carbon monoxide produced by the rink’s ice resurfacing machine.
The Denver Post reported Monday that one person was kept at a Gunnison hospital overnight for observation, and two people were transported to a Denver hospital to undergo hyperbolic chamber treatment.
According to Gunnison Fire Marshal Dennis Spritzer, the high amounts of carbon monoxide in the building were the result of two mechanical problems.
“The cause of the problem was twofold,” Spritzer said Wednesday. “We had a damper motor that was inoperable and it was not allowing fresh air into the building. Along with that, the ice resurfacing machine was giving off [abnormally] high amounts of CO and mechanics are diagnosing the problem to repair that unit.”
Furthermore, Spritzer said, city officials are meeting with an alarm company to install carbon monoxide alarms.
“It’s definitely going to be a safer situation for everyone,” he said. “We are very sorry this happened. It was a mechanical failure, and I want to assure everyone that this will be a safe and good place to come and skate. We are doing a lot to make sure that happens.”
Lizard Head hockey Coach Davis Fansler said three of his players received oxygen treatment at Gunnison Valley Hospital, as out-patients.
“Obviously, the good news is that everyone is fine,” Fansler said on Tuesday. “It was pretty traumatic for them. There were a couple girls who had purple lips who didn’t look so well.”
Fansler said his team arrived at the City of Gunnison-owned facility about an hour before the 1 p.m. game against the Colorado Jr. Eagles. At first, nobody on the team felt or sensed anything out of the ordinary but once the players took the ice, Fansler said they all looked sluggish.
“I thought they just had travel legs,” he said. “Halfway through the first period, a couple of the girls started complaining. Some thought they could smell gas.”
At that point, Fansler said he asked the referee to check the facility’s carbon monoxide monitor and conferred with the Jr. Eagles coach to see if his players were feeling lightheaded and sick.
“They had been at the rink all morning,” Fansler said. “We decided to get the girls out of there and to get some fresh air. As we were doing that, that’s when one of their girls collapsed in the locker room. Panic ensued, and 911 was called.”
The next day, Fansler said, he received a call from a City of Gunnison representative who told him the rink does not have a carbon monoxide detector and that the referee actually checked a carbon dioxide monitor.
“The fact that Gunnison doesn’t have a CO monitor is unfathomable to me,” Fansler said. “A Zamboni runs every hour for 15 minutes.”
In hindsight, Fansler said he should have noticed something was wrong even earlier, given the situation.
“Clearly the players were being impacted. They are normally standing on the boards cheering,” he said. “Our girls couldn’t bring much energy to their shifts. I am really glad everyone is OK.”
Certainly the most important outcome of last weekend’s tournament is that everyone is OK. Telluride did walk away with a 4-1 victory – and has qualified to play in the Mountain States Girls Hockey League State Tournament on Feb. 25-27 in Littleton.
The team has clinched the third seed in the tournament and has the opportunity to improve to the second seed home games against Aspen this weekend. The puck is set to drop at Hanley Rink on Saturday at 1:30 p.m. with a second game starting at 11 a.m. on Sunday.
Hanley Rink has three carbon-monoxide detectors.