BANNING: Eleven sickened, 4 hospitalized after second DPSS office evacuated
BANNING – A second major incident involving the mass evacuation of a Riverside County Department of Public Social Services office has occurred, this time in Banning Wednesday, Aug. 17 at 10:44 a.m. Both incidents occurred within a five-day period and both involved employees and/or public being sickened and forced to evacuate DPSS buildings. The two offices are about 45 miles apart.
The first incident occurred Friday, Aug. 12, at about 2 p.m. at the DPSS office in Lake Elsinore. The DPSS complex is located at 1400 Minthorn Street in Lake Elsinore. The most recent incident happened at the DPSS office at 63 South 4th Street in Banning.
In spite of the similarities between the two incidents that together involved the mass evacuation of hundreds of people and sickened nearly two dozen, in a telephone interview, Cal Fire/Public Information Officer Jennifer Fuhrman said, “There is no connection between the two incidents.” Asked if law enforcement agencies were investigating any potential connections between the two separate, but similar incidents, Fuhrman responded, “Not that I’m aware of.”
Neither incident was categorized as “Mass Casualty Events” by fire officials.
11 sickened, four hospitalized after undetermined odor, possibly “natural gas,” forces evacuation of Banning DPSS building
In the most recent incident in Banning, Cal Fire/Riverside County firefighters responded to the countys’ DPSS building after receiving 911 reports of “several people feeling ill, and evacuating the building,” Cal Fire/Riverside County Fire Public Information Officer April Newman wrote in a press release the day of the incident.
11 victims were sickened and four were transported by ground ambulances to area hospitals. “The four patients transported suffered minor injuries/illness,” according to Newman.
34 firefighters from seven engine companies responded to the medical emergency. They were assisted by a Breathing Support Unit, the Riverside County Fire Department Hazardous Materials Team, the Riverside County Fire Department Hazardous Materials Support Unit, paramedics from American Medical Response, Riverside County Environmental Health officials, and Southern California Gas Company employees.
The first arriving fire personnel confirmed smelling an odor both inside and outside the DPSS building. Officials initially believed the odor was possibly the smell of “natural gas,” according to Newman.
Firefighters immediately began to “triage approximately one hundred employees,” Newman explained. Other firefighters began trying to locate the source of the odor.
During the hours-long investigation, air conditioned buses were requested to the location to act as rehab/cooling locations for firefighters and other emergency first responders.
At about 2:45 p.m. Newman provided an update that a Riverside County Fire Department Hazardous Materials Team made entry into the building to search for the source of the odor. “Nothing was found in their readings,” according to Newman.
Employees were allowed to return to the building shortly afterward.
Anyone with information regarding this incident is encouraged to contact Cal Fire/Riverside County Fire officials at (951) 940-6985. Callers can refer to incident file numbers CA-RRU-99650.
12 sickened, four hospitalized after chemical irritant, “possibly pepper spray” released into Lake Elsinore DPSS complex
The first incident and subsequent investigation met with similar results. That emergency was reported about 1:50 p.m., Aug. 12 at the Lake Elsinore DPSS office. (See original report and follow up here.)
The evacuation and medical emergency were caused when an unknown chemical irritant, “possibly pepper spray,” was released into the building, according to Fuhrman.
During that investigation, 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 building was evacuated as a precaution.”
Riverside County Fire personnel were summoned to evaluate and treat those who were overcome by the unexplained odor and determine its’ cause, Grimm explained in a press release.
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 at the time. Firefighters were assisted by the Riverside County Fire Department’s Hazardous Materials Team, Riverside County Environmental Health officials, and AMR paramedics.
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.”
Anyone with information about the Lake Elsinore DPSS investigation can 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 CrimeTipsonline form.
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