Fire officials said because of the cold temperatures, the heating system was turned up to a higher temperature in the Lexington Police Communications Center, causing dust in the duct work to float into the air.
That caused a smoke detector in the room to be activated, releasing the fire suppression chemical, Halon, into the air. According to experts, Halon is a liquefied, compressed gas that stops the spread of fire by chemically disrupting combustion.
The chemical is an alternative to using water from sprinklers to put out a fire and is typically used in computers labs or records room because it leaves no reside, fire suppression experts said.
While studies show the chemical Halon is not harmful to people, it should be taken as a serious matter when dispersed. Many city building codes and the US Department of Labor instruct that areas with Halon fire suppression systems are to be evacuated prior to dispersal. The displacement of oxygen does not contribute to extinguishment of a potential fire.
Lexington Dispatchers were able to quickly evacuate the room before the chemical was released. According to fire officials, an alarm sounds before the chemical is released and gives a 15- to 30-second warning for people inside the room to leave.
According to fire officials, exposure to high levels of Halon can cause lightheadedness, dizziness, shortness of breath, cardiac irregularity, and unconsciousness. But, these symptoms will disappear if the victim is removed from the area of exposure.
Because of the evacuation, Lexington Police dispatchers had to rely on emergency portable radios to communicate with officers. They say those portable radios are stationed at each dispatcher’s desk so when an emergency occurs, dispatchers never lose communications with officers.
911 calls were also temporarily rerouted to the Lexington Fire Dispatch Center, communication officials say. That center is inside the Lexington Fire Department headquarters building a few blocks away. They say rerouting calls is normal procedure when lines are not working or not able to be answered at the police communications center.