Beef dish to blame for carbon monoxide levels at Barrington prep school

BARRINGTON, R.I. (WPRI) — It was one of the more unusual reasons for a carbon monoxide detector to go off.

Fire Captain Scott Carroll says a carbon monoxide alarm went off at St. Andrews School on Federal Road around 6 p.m. Thursday. When Barrington firefighters responded, they evacuated the dorm building and found the CO to be contained to a single dorm room.

CO meters in the room were reading levels up to 80 parts-per-million. “In my 18 years, I’ve never seen numbers that high,” Carroll said.

After checking the heating system and realizing there was no gas or wood-burning elements in the building, firefighters were momentarily stumped. Then the student who lives in the dorm room told firefighters he had been heating up an Asian beef dish that his parents sent him from another country. 

The dish, which was labeled “hotpot,” had a self-heating element that looked like a white packet underneath what appeared to be beef and noodles in a plastic dish. The firefighters’ CO meters skyrocketed when placed near the plastic container.

“So we took this top off, stuck the CO meter in there, and the thing shot up to 150, 160 parts-per-million,” Carroll said. “When you think of a student, anybody for that matter, sitting here eating this close to 200 parts per million carbon monoxide…it’s disconcerting.”

Firefighters evacuated the dorm and opened windows the ventilate the building. The carbon monoxide did not spread beyond the one dorm room, Captain Carroll said.

No one was sickened by the carbon monoxide, and all students’ levels were checked as a precaution.

The beef dinner was confiscated by firefighters.