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Tulsa Jail Field Trip Illnesses Test Emergency Responders

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Emergency workers help Bell Elementary students Thursday. Emergency workers help Bell Elementary students Thursday.
Thirty students and eight adults showed symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning. Several agencies responded. Thirty students and eight adults showed symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning. Several agencies responded.
Michael Garrison, field operations supervisor for EMSA. Michael Garrison, field operations supervisor for EMSA.
TULSA, Oklahoma -

Several dozen children got sick on a school field trip to the Tulsa County Jail Thursday. Although it's not clear yet what made those kids and several adults sick, they did show symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning.

EMSA, one of the services responsible for emergency response to the incident, says constant training and cooperation with other agencies made all the difference.

When the field trip to the Tulsa Jail went wrong for dozens of Bell elementary students, EMSA first set up a triage area and then a transport section.

"That section deals with getting the ambulances there, where they need to stage at and which patients are going to go with each ambulance," said Michael Garrison, field operations supervisor for EMSA.

5/10/2012 Related Story: Students Hospitalized During Field Trip To Tulsa County Jail

Next, EMSA put area hospitals on alert. It turns out 30 students and eight adults ended up being transported for symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning.

"Headaches, to dizziness and light headedness, fainting, nausea," Garrison said.

Emergency personnel say patients had slightly elevated carbon monoxide levels, but it's not clear if that was the cause. Firefighters cleared the jail, the bus, and the school as possible sources.

EMSA's Michael Garrison says dealing with young patients on such a large scale can be challenging.

"Children tend to be a lot more excitable. They get nervous; they get scared, so being able to help them and get them into a situation where we can control them and medically treat them is a little more difficult sometimes," he said.

Garrison says all of the students and adults each reported symptoms, so it's unlikely students just mimicked others' symptoms during the confusion.

"There could have been some of that, but I don't think very much," he said.

EMSA holds regular National Incident Management System classes and other incident management training. The organization is required to have large scale training exercises every two years, similar to recent disaster training held in Jenks.

Garrison says that training paid off.

"We were able to triage quickly, see which patients were worse than others and get the worst ones out first, which is our goal," said Michael Garrison, EMSA field operations supervisor.

EMSA will hold after-action meetings and debriefings to analyze their response, to see if there are ways to improve.

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