An underground fire released high levels of carbon monoxide that overtook firefighters and caused the evacuation of a two block area of West Chester Wednesday evening, fire officials said.
The elevated gas levels sidelined five firefighters around 4 p.m. as they tried to put out an underground transformer and cable fire along the 200 block of W. Gay Street, West Chester Borough Fire Chief Michael McDonald said.
The fire spread to an electrical panel in the basement of a home along the block. It was in the basement where the first responders were overcome by the fumes.
Emergency officials initially tallied the number of firefighters injured at 12, but later lowered the total.
West Chester Assistant Fire Chief Mark Scanlon collapsed after being exposed to the gas, McDonald said.
"When he came outside the building, he did collapse and he was unresponsive momentarily," McDonald said. "Once he got out into the fresh air and once the guys started reviving him, he came right around."
Scanlon was rushed to Penn Chester County Hospital and was later transferred to the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. He will stay overnight, but is expected to recover.
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Four other firefighters were also taken to hospital as a precaution, the chief said. They have since been released.
Fire officials evacuated homes and businesses along the 100 and 200 blocks of W. Gay Street as they searched for the source of the gas. Electricity was also shut off as a precaution.
McDonald said the carbon monoxide was traced back to the underground fire and that the elevated levels were dissipating. Residents were allowed to return to the area shortly after 8 p.m.
PECO and fire officials are still working to determine an exact cause of the fire.