San Marcos Fire Marshal Ken Bell has issued a warning about the deadly effects of carbon monoxide in confined spaces suspected in two separate incidents that claimed the life of one man and seriously injured another within a few hours of each other Tuesday afternoon and early Wednesday.
Rob Schmid, manager of the Texas Parks and Wildlife A.E. Wood Fish Hatchery on Staples Road, was pronounced dead after he was found unresponsive in an underground chamber about 15 feet below the surface late Tuesday afternoon.
Schmid was working on the hatchery’s pump system when it appears he was overcome by carbon monoxide from a gas-powered pump, Bell said. The cause of death will be determined by an autopsy.
Police and firefighters responded to the scene where they determined Schmid had died and then worked for an hour and a half to bring the victim out of the chamber.
Air monitoring tests showed high levels of carbon monoxide in the chamber exceeding five times the permissible exposure limit, Bell said.
A second incident happened around 1:25 a.m. Wednesday when a construction worker was overcome by carbon monoxide at a work site at The Village at South Park shopping center, 102 Wonder World Drive.
The man, a concrete construction worker, was transported by ambulance to the University Hospital in San Antonio to undergo treatment in a hyperbaric chamber. His condition is unknown. Bell issued a stop work order at the site. When the fire department and EMS arrived, they found the worker had been exposed to large amounts of carbon monoxide.
“In this second incident detection measurements were well above the OSHA standards for exposure to such a gas, almost three times the maximum level authorized,” Bell said.
The worker was using a concrete saw indoors without proper ventilation, Bell said. A nearby store had to be ventilated after officials found it too was filled with the poison gas from the construction.
San Marcos police and the fire marshal’s office are still investigating both incidents in cooperation with state and federal agencies.
“Carbon monoxide is known as the silent killer,” Bell said. “We want to re-emphasize these dangers in the light of two exposure cases in the last day. People tend to forget the danger associated with this deadly gas in small spaces. This is a colorless and odorless gas that cannot be detected without special equipment.”
General awareness and good ventilation prevent most dangers associated with this gas, he added. Usually this concern arises in the winter time with enclosed spaces and heaters or fireplaces.