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Firefighters warn of carbon monoxide poisoning after restaurant incident in Clemmons

LEWISVILLE, N.C. -- While people were enjoying a nice Saturday night meal, they started getting sick, not realizing they were breathing in a potentially deadly gas at the River Ridge Taphouse in Clemmons.

An off-duty Lewisville fire fighter was there for a birthday party and recognized the symptoms as carbon monoxide poisoning. He called his station, just five minutes down the road, immediately.

"To me, even though it was a bad situation and there were a number of people affected, everybody ended up going home at the end of the day," said Assistant Fire Chief Steve Williams.

Williams responded to the call that sent more than a dozen people to the hospital. He says symptoms of vomiting, headache and nausea can sneak up on you.

The best way to check for the dangerous gas is a carbon monoxide detector. River Ridge did not have a detector in the business, but very few businesses in North Carolina do. It's not required by law.

North Carolina law (N.C. Gen Stat. 42-42) only requires land lords to provide "a minimum of one working carbon monoxide detector per rental unit per level" if the unit has a fossil-fuel burning heater, fireplace or is attached to a garage.

The North Carolina State Building Code (described in N.C. Gen Stat. 143-138) says a building code "may contain provisions requiring the installation of either battery-operated or electrical carbon monoxide alarms in every dwelling unit having a combustion heater, appliance, or fireplace, and in any dwelling unit having an attached garage." That same statute also requires these detectors in any lodging establishment, but requirements for schools and businesses with these type of heaters aren't explicitly mentioned in North Carolina laws.

Williams says it makes sense that the law focuses on residential areas for requirements.

"You're there longer," he said. "You're gonna get exposed, if there's something wrong with an appliance and carbon monoxide is being produced, you're gonna be exposed to it longer and the longer you're exposed the worse it's going to impact you."

The US Department of Housing and Urban Development says more than 500 people in the country die from carbon monoxide poisoning each year. Detectors cost about $25 at your local hardware store.