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Post office evacuated for carbon monoxide

Thirty-nine postal employees were treated at various hospitals for carbon monoxide poisoning Wednesday.

The employees were exposed to the carbon monoxide at the Main Post Office on Main Street. They were running generators outside because of an overnight power outage, said Capt. Jim Judkins, spokesperson for the Suffolk Department of Fire and Rescue.

The post office was without power Wednesday morning when employees arrived for work. They placed generators on the back loading dock of the building so they could begin the day’s work.

The wind blew fumes from the generators inside the building through the large garage-style back doors, Judkins said. The problem was made worse when employees opened front doors to air out the building, which pulled more fumes in, said Judkins. A worker at the post office called 911 at 7:55 a.m., the fire captain said. The caller reported smelling gas.

When the fire department arrived, they tested the air inside the building and found the level of carbon monoxide to be more than seven times the amount considered safe, Judkins said.

As a precaution, employees were transported by ambulance, passenger van and school bus to Sentara Obici Hospital, Southampton Memorial Hospital in Franklin and Bon Secours Maryview Medical Center in Portsmouth. No customers were affected because the post office had not yet opened for business when the fire department arrived.

Most employees were treated and released, said Fran Sansone, communications coordinator for the Hampton Roads District of the U.S. Postal Service.

Treatment for carbon monoxide poisoning involves getting the victims into fresh air and starting them on oxygen and sometimes an IV, Judkins said. Once hospitalized, their blood is monitored for carbon monoxide levels.

Denna Babb, a rural carrier for the postal service, was in the building preparing for her route when her coworkers started smelling gas.

“I smelled the fumes when I got inside, but I was still able to keep doing my job,” she said. “The fire department came and said we need to get checked for safety reasons.”

Babb was transported to Bon Secours Maryview Medical Center, where her blood was drawn to check carbon monoxide levels. She said she never felt any effects of the carbon monoxide.

“I heard one coworker say she had a dizzy spell,” she said.

“Our priority is to get the mail out,” Babb said. “We do whatever we have to do to get to customers.

“The post office looked out for our safety. Their priority was to make sure we were taken care of,” she said.

Babb said she was given the all-clear to come back to work and carry the mail.

Retail service in the post office was expected to resume when power was restored around 3 p.m., Sansone said. Yesterday, carriers delivered only first-class mail and time-sensitive material, such as newspapers. All other mail will be delivered today, she said.

Chuck Penn, manager of media relations with Dominion Virginia Power, said the outage that prompted post office employees to use generators happened when a tree fell on wires and took down a pole in the area of West Constance Road and Western Avenue a little after 2 a.m. The outage affected 388 customers initially, but most were put back on within minutes and the rest were restored about 2:30 p.m. Wednesday, he said.

tracy.agnew@suffolknewsherald.com

ashley.taylor@suffolknewsherald.com