EATON TWP. – Officials are investigating what caused more than 20 teenagers to be hospitalized Saturday during a Junior ROTC drill meet at Midview High School.
About 400 students were marching and maneuvering in the school`s small gymnasium about 3:40 p.m. when, one by one, they began to topple to the floor, Eaton Township Fire Chief Phillip Slack said.
The teens had traveled from 15 schools in Ohio and Pennsylvania to the annual meet.
“It was getting hot in there, and people just started passing out. One went down, and then you could see others falling, too,” said 17-year-old Midview senior Nathan Peyton.
Lilly Scott, 45, a nurse and a parent of one of the ROTC members, said that when a third girl crumpled to the ground, she hurried over and performed CPR.
“Kids were panicking. They were lying on the floor or up against the walls. Nobody knew what to do,” she said.
The drillers were evacuated to nearby classrooms, where they continued to pass out, Slack said.
Paramedics ducked in and out of the building for nearly two hours, wheeling more than a dozen out on stretchers to waiting ambulances and fitting others with oxygen masks.
The victims complained of dizziness, chest pain, high heart rate, difficulty breathing and general distress, Slack said.
A complete count of victims had not been tallied late Saturday, but Slack said “more than 20″ students and one adult had been taken to EMH Regional Medical Center.
The hospital couldn`t handle the sudden patient load, and many were transferred to Allen Community Hospital in Oberlin and St. John West Shore Hospital in Westlake, he said.
Slack said several other ROTC members and adults may have driven themselves or were taken to hospitals for lesser symptoms.
Firefighters from Carlisle, Columbia and Eaton townships and Grafton responded to the school.
Lorain County Emergency Management Agency Director Tom Kelley and a member of the county health board also helped investigate.
Slack said firefighters cleared the hallways and could detect no harmful gases.
At first, he attributed the illnesses to possible food poisoning from hot dogs the students ate earlier in the day.
That theory was ruled out Saturday night.
“We still are not really sure what transpired over there. From the symptoms, it doesn`t appear to be food poisoning. It might be some carbon monoxide problem that didn`t show up when we went in with the meters,” he said.
Firefighters and administrators will return to the building today with engineers and air conditioning specialists to further investigate the problem, he said.
It is uncertain whether the building will be ruled safe for students by Monday.