‘We did not have a fatality’

Fire chief: No death occurred in carbon monoxide incident

After reporting one fatality from a carbon monoxide poisoning incident in an abandoned church Sunday, Marshalltown Fire Chief David Rierson said Wednesday that no such death occurred.

“[Wednesday] morning, it was determined that we did not have a fatality from that call over the weekend,” he said in an interview with the T-R, adding he is taking ownership for the mistake. “It’s going to be my responsibility and my error, and I’m not going to get into a finger-pointing deal … I should have confirmed with some additional sources and I didn’t, so it’s going to be my error and my responsibility.”

The fire department released an official statement correcting the mistaken Nov. 6 report of a fatality related to the incident.

A total of 15 victims suffered carbon monoxide poisoning Sunday afternoon during a worship ritual in a vacant church building at 305 E. South St. A gas-powered generator running in an unventilated basement was determined as the cause of the poisoning.

The victims are part of a church congregation in search of a building for worship, and Pastor Milie García said they initially entered the vacant church to determine if they would want to take ownership of it.

“We were to meet with the rest of the congregation to see if we want to invest time and money on rebuilding that building,” she said, adding the group decided to hold a worship service after meeting up. “It was more like a ‘thank you’ to the Lord, because we were finally getting a place.”

García said she does not have a permit for the building, and she did not claim to own it. Instead, she said she is still “in the process” of getting ownership of a building for worship.

It was during the service that the carbon monoxide from the generator poisoned the congregation, who were rescued after García’s husband, Pedro, called 911.

“If they were in the process of buying [the building] and they went in to look, just to see what type of work would need to be done, then that wouldn’t be the issue,” Rierson said. “The issue is they tried to hold a church service in there, and the building was not permitted for assembly occupancy.”

After inspection, the fire department determined the building had multiple fire code violations.

“It’s been labeled as an unsafe building,” Rierson said. “No permits had been pulled in order for it to be an assembly occupancy … until such time as those proper permits are requested and repairs are made to the building, it will remain an unsafe building.”

García said she has not been in contact with the fire department, adding that she “just got out of the hospital” as of Wednesday afternoon. Now, she said the congregation is holding services at members’ private residences while they continue to search for a permanent church building.


Contact Adam Sodders at (641) 753-6611 or asodders@timesrepublican.com