UPDATED: Twelve sickened, 4 hospitalized after chemical released at Lake Elsinore DPSS office
UPDATE: 08/14/2016 1:20 a.m. With information from the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department
LAKE ELSINORE – Deputies from the Riverside County Sheriff’s Lake Elsinore Police Station and other emergency first responders were dispatched to “a reported irritant causing discomfort to multiple people,” according to Riverside Sheriff’s Sergeant Todd Grimm.
The incident occurred at the Riverside County Department of Public Social Services located at 1400 Minthorn Street in Lake Elsinore on Friday, Aug. 12, at about 2 p.m.
“The building was evacuated as a precaution,” according to Grimm.
Riverside County Fire personnel were summoned to medically treat several people and determine the cause of the odor, Grimm explained in a press release. In all, 12 people were sickened and four were hospitalized for further evaluation and treatment.
“The Riverside County Hazardous Material Unit responded, but was unable to locate the source of the odor,” according to Grimm. “About 5 p.m., the location was determined to be safe and employees were allowed to return.”
This is an active and ongoing investigation. Anyone with information regarding this incident is encouraged to contact the Riverside County Sheriff’s Lake Elsinore Station at (951) 2245-3300. Callers can refer to incident file number L162250035 and can remain anonymous. Citizens may also submit a tip using the Sheriff’s CrimeTips online form.
LAKE ELSINORE – A total of 12 people were sickened and four people were transported to area hospitals after countless people were sent fleeing from the Riverside County Department of Public Social Services building. The DPSS complex is located at 1400 Minthorn Street in Lake Elsinore.
The evacuation and medical emergency were caused by an unidentified chemical that was reportedly released inside the building about 1:50 p.m., Aug. 12.
The building was evacuated after exposure to an unknown chemical irritant, possibly pepper spray, according to Cal Fire/Riverside County Fire Public Information Officer Jennifer Fuhrman.
Chelsea S., a resident of Menifee who requested her last name be withheld, was at the DPSS office when the incident happened.
Chelsea said she had just checked in for a 1:30 p.m. appointment and was waiting for her turn to be called. “There was a line with several different couples with babies in strollers waiting to sign in,” Chelsea explained.
Chelsea said everything seemed fine until a man in a red shirt started coughing uncontrollably. “He was coughing so bad he almost threw up and then he went outside,” Chelsea said.
“Suddenly, everyone standing around me started coughing and looking around at each other and then I felt something hit my lungs and it was hard to breathe,” Chelsea said. “I gasped and coughed and choked. Then someone said, ‘There’s something in here.’”
“The people at the check-in desk told everyone to immediately evacuate the building and we all ran out of the building and stood in front of the door,” Chelsea said. “After they got us all out they called other people in the building and warned them to leave their offices.”
30 firefighters from six engine companies and one truck company were dispatched to the location after the incident occurred, Fuhrman wrote in a press release. Firefighters were assisted by the Riverside County Fire Department’s Hazardous Materials Team, Riverside County Environmental Health, and American Medical Response.
Deputies from the Riverside County Sheriff’s Lake Elsinore Station also responded to the medical emergency. They were working with the fire department to determine what the source of the irritant was.
When firefighters and paramedics showed up they immediately began to triage those who were suffering the worst effects from the unknown dispersed chemical(s).
Chelsea said she was still at the location when a couple with a young baby had their child transported by ambulance to a local hospital.
“(Emergency first responders) kept us from leaving until a little after 3 p.m.,” Chelsea explained. “I was told my blood pressure was high but they said I could go if I wanted. But I was still freaked out.”
Emergency first responders told Chelsea when she got home to remove her clothes outside of her residence and immediately take a shower.
Before she left the area, Chelsea said she saw firefighters with breathing apparatus and hazmat personnel with what Chelsea described as a “rolling robot” preparing to enter the building.
Chelsea said as she was leaving the parking lot, she saw emergency crews bringing in a porta-potty, “Like they were gonna be there for a while.”
Fuhrman provided an update at 3:18 p.m., writing that the building had been evacuated after a chemical – believed to possibly be pepper spray – was released into the office.
This is an active and ongoing investigation. Anyone with information regarding this incident is encouraged to contact the Riverside County Sheriff’s Lake Elsinore Station at (951) 2245-3300.
Callers can refer to incident file number L162250035 and can remain anonymous. Citizens may also submit a tip using the Sheriff’s CrimeTips online form.
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