Video: Downtown Modesto school for autistic students evacuated after air issues

03/13/2014 12:26 PM

03/13/2014 6:09 PM

A 14th Street building in downtown Modesto that houses The Kendall Center and Therapeutic Pathways was evacuated Thursday morning after an undetermined odor caused coughing and other respiratory issues among employees inside.

The incident started on the Kendall side of the building and affected eight adults, said Heather Graves, spokeswoman for the Modesto Police Department. The Kendall Center works with people who have autism spectrum disorder.

As a precaution, all building occupants – 44 adults and 15 children, including staff and students – were evacuated to a church next door. All but one of the affected people started feeling better almost immediately after going outside, Graves said. All were examined by medical personnel on scene, and no one was taken to the hospital.

The first engine arrived about 10 a.m., and firefighters determined the incident be should elevated to a hazardous material response, said Modesto Regional Fire Authority Battalion Chief Hugo Patino. Air sampled outside the building registered a small amount of toxicity.

The hazmat response was elevated to Level III, the highest level, which brings members of the team from allied fire agencies, Patino said.

Two firefighters, each wearing an encapsulated protective suit with a breathing apparatus, entered the building but were unable to replicate the conditions that caused the evacuation. Another team made its way to the roof to look for anything that might be picked up by the air-handling system, Patino said.

The source of the toxic incident could not be determined. A roofing crew was working on the building earlier this week, but it’s not known if the work was connected to Thursday’s incident.

Once the scene was cleared as safe, employees were allowed to return to the building. Families of the students were notified about the incident, and school staff made arrangements to have students picked up and taken home for the day.

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