By Susan Monteleone
ELDRED February 09, 2001 - Recently, a Town of Highland Highway employee was overcome by carbon monoxide poisoning, resulting in a trip to the emergency room.
Thats renewed a controversy over replacing a Highway Department truck, likely to be the focus of a discussion at this coming Tuesdays Highland Town Board meeting.
The truck is in need of a lot of work. The floor in the truck is currently a road sign, and the smokestack is not the best, stated Highway Superintendent Jim McKean in a recent interview. We need a new truck for the department, and I hope that in this years budget process we can somehow work it out to have a new truck.
Since the incident, the truck has been parked and not in use, he continued. This brings the town down to one less truck. We need a new truck, and I really hope it becomes possible.
According to McKean, on January 21, Town of Highland Highway worker Tom Stewart was plowing the roads during a snowstorm. Stewart began his shift at 2:30 a.m. and was checked on frequently by the Town of Highland foreman during his shift.
Around 5:30 a.m., Stewart called in and stated that he was taking a 15-minute break. He then resumed his plowing.
At roughly 1 p.m. Stewart again called in and stated he was taking another break on Woods Road. However, a few minutes later, according to McKean, Stewart called in very anxious and then followed with a second call in which Stewart sounded agitated. Then another call came directly to McKean, in which Stewart was pleading, crying and demanding help.
McKean immediately called the American Legion Ambulance Corps and the Yulan Fire Department via 911, and they were subsequently dispatched.
McKean himself arrived at the scene to then find Stewart lying unconscious in a snowbank about 30 feet behind the truck, which had both doors open. McKean stated that he went over to Stewart, who suddenly sat up. Stewart asked McKean how he had arrived so quickly. McKean explained that it had taken him nearly ten minutes to get there.
Upon arrival of the emergency workers, Stewart was taken to Bon Secours Hospital in Port Jervis. The American Legion Ambulance Corps, according to McKean, had taken Stewarts blood pressure twice on the way to the hospital, which read the first time 180/120 and then the second time 178/132. McKean added that Stewarts normal blood pressure is 120/90.
At the hospital, Stewart took a toxicology test which showed a 7.43 carbon monoxide level, which later came down to 6.2 and at the time of his release was at 4.3, a much safer level. Stewart was sent home from the hospital the same day.
McKean said that he has requested Stewart to see a neurologist and have a detailed motor test taken. He also noted that, since the accident, Stewart has experienced blurred vision and coordination difficulties, along with other health concerns.
Of similar concern, on January 18, recalled McKean, Stewart had said he had a slight headache and claimed he might be getting sick. Then on January 19, Stewart again mentioned to Mc-Kean that he was not feeling well and thought he might be coming down with the flu. The next day, said Mc-Kean, Stewart was having a rough day and had fallen asleep in a chair in the shop. McKean said he tried for ten minutes to awaken Stewart, and when he awoke, Stewart had an ashen look on his face and was very much sick, claiming he had a bad headache and was nauseous.
McKean then took Stewart home, and, during the trip, Stewart fell asleep and had to be shaken to be awakened.
After taking Stewart home, Mc-Kean realized that Stewarts symptoms could be related to carbon monoxide posioning. When he arrived back at the shop, McKean took a meter and began to test the truck Stewart drives.
The Highway Department then took the truck and idled it for about an hour. The meter leveled off at seven parts per million, which is not considered hazardous. They then drove the truck for about six miles and retested it, and the meter dropped to zero and remained there.
Carbon monoxide poisoning symptoms result in panting, heart rate and blood pressure increase, brain cell malfunction and drowsiness. Victims may also become restless or combative due to the lack of oxygen to the brain. The more the person is exposed to carbon monoxide such as the type found in automobile exhaust they can begin to hallucinate and lose consciousness.
In closing, McKean told the board that his department is safety-conscious and that all safety measures are taken when it comes to the employees and equipment. He added that the truck Stewart was driving is a truck he has been trying very hard to get replaced.
Town of Highland Supervisor Allan Schadt, in a recent interview, offered comment on the incident concerning Stewart.
The Town of Highland Board is very concerned over the safety of all its employees. This was an incident that should not have happened, and we will follow Stewarts progress very closely, he said. The truck, according to our highway superintendent, has been parked since the incident and will not be used until we know it is safe to put a driver into. We will be down one less truck for now, and I know that the residents of the town will be patient and understanding.
We are entering the budget process, and the board will be speaking to the highway supt. and reviewing the budget. We will look into the possibility of a new truck, but, with the budget we have, there are no guarantees that we will be able to purchase one.
At present, said Schadt, the highway department has two bonds out for equipment, with one being paid off this month. In last years budget process, the board did approve the purchase of a new pickup truck for the highway department and the year before, they approved the purchase of a new tandem.
The Town of Highland will do whatever it can to help with the situation, and we will work closely with the highway department, said Schadt.