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At least 90 hospitalized after CO incident at N.Y. hockey rink

First responders in Cheektowaga faced several sick players and parents

By Natalie Brophy
The Buffalo News

CHEEKTOWAGA, N.Y. — After finishing their 2 p.m. game at Holiday Twin Rinks in Cheektowaga on Wednesday, some of the players on the Amherst Red Knights hockey team were not feeling well.

The 8-year-old players were lethargic and didn’t want to play in their next game at 5:45 p.m., said Jay Calabrese, team manager and coach of the Red Knights.

“The boys just didn’t seem like themselves,” he said.

Parents thought that, maybe, their children were tired from playing, and took them home or out to get some food before the next game in their tournament.

Calabrese ate with his son and some of the other parents and players and noticed that the boys were feeling better. But after the team returned to the rink, the players were again not feeling well.

Then, during the middle of the second period of their game, the referee decided to cancel it because players on the other team were vomiting, Calabrese said.

It was not until first responders showed up to the rink as Calabrese and his team were leaving that he knew something was wrong at the facility.

“That’s when you start to say, ‘Holy smokes. Something’s going on here,’ ” Calabrese said.

At least 90 people were hospitalized across Western New York after they were exposed to high levels of carbon monoxide at Holiday Twin Rinks.

The toxic gas came from an improperly working furnace in the snack bar area, causing high levels of carbon monoxide to build up for days, according to National Fuel. When National Fuel technicians took a reading at the facility, the level of carbon monoxide was 4,000 parts per million, National Fuel spokesperson Karen Merkel told The Buffalo News.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, exposure to carbon monoxide at 3,200 parts per million can cause headache, nausea, and dizziness after five to 10 minutes of exposure, and unconsciousness after 30 minutes. The average, healthy adult will begin to feel symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning at levels of 200 parts per million after two to three hours.

In an email to The Buffalo News, rink owner Mark Grundtisch said the furnace would be replaced on Thursday, and new carbon monoxide detectors would also be installed.

National Fuel gave the facility the OK to reopen Thursday, and the rink was set to welcome skaters in the afternoon. But management later decided to remain closed for the day to “make sure there are no lingering issues. Safety first,” according to a post on the rink’s Facebook page.

“We are very sorry that our customers in the building had to experience this event, and we hope that all of our hockey families are feeling better,” Grundtisch said.

Sarah Hornung, who was at Holiday Twin Rinks with her children for her son’s games on Wednesday, said she and other parents are frustrated by the facility’s handling of the incident.

“We are frustrated that they either didn’t seem to have CO detectors, or if they did, they were obviously not functional,” Hornung said. “I think it’s important to note that it was the parents who responded and called 911. It wasn’t because any detectors went off, it wasn’t because the rink identified the issue.”

Like Calabrese’s team, Hornung’s son was playing in two games on Wednesday for the East Aurora Yetis. During the first game, which started at 12:45 p.m., some of the players started feeling sick. Hornung’s younger children watching in the stands developed headaches.

“We didn’t think anything of it, didn’t put it together,” Hornung said.

During the second game at 5:45 p.m., several kids began projectile vomiting behind the bench, and the goalie almost collapsed.

Despite alerting the maintenance staff at the rink, Hornung claims management was not very responsive. After most of the players fell sick, the coaches stopped the game, and parents alerted the fire department and called 911.

“We were there from 12 until 6:30,” Hornung said. “At no point did they ever have any CO detectors go up. There was no indication that was going on.”

Hornung’s son did not have to go to the emergency room, as some of his teammates did.

Calabrese took himself and his son to the hospital at around 9 p.m. Wednesday. They both had elevated carbon monoxide levels, were treated with oxygen and released around 2 a.m. Thursday, he said.

Twenty-three children were treated at Oishei Children’s Hospital, while three other Kaleida Health facilities — DeGraff Medical Park, Buffalo General Medical Center and Millard Fillmore Suburban Hospital — treated and released 13 patients, spokesperson Michael Hughes said.

Catholic Health hospitals saw around 50 patients from the incident. And two adults and two children were treated and released from Erie County Medical Center, said Peter Cutler, vice president of communications.

Parents flooded the comment section of Holiday Twin Rink’s Facebook page on Thursday, demanding accountability and protesting against the management’s negligence.

“I hope that the officials who are responsible for inspecting buildings hold them accountable if they were negligent in any way,” Hornung said of rink management.

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