When off-duty firefighter Lonnie Wimmer noticed something was off while he was eating dinner at a restaurant on Dec. 10, he reacted immediately, and his quick thinking may have saved the lives of dozens of customers.
Wimmer, who works for the Lewisville Fire Department, was at a local bar and restaurant in Clemmons, North Carolina, celebrating a friend's birthday, reports WGHP. An hour and a half into the festivities, Wimmer suspected there was something terribly wrong.
"People were starting to act a little weird," he said. "Heads hurting, people holding their belly, going to the bathroom a lot … Some of the adults were acting kind of nauseated, sick,"
He immediately connected the behavior to carbon monoxide poisoning, and -- without hesitating -- dialed the fire department and told them what he knew.
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According to Lewisville Fire Department Assistant Chief Steve Williams, the leak most likely came from a malfunctioning heater on the premises using natural gas.
"I have been sick all day with a horrible headache and stomachache and nauseous," Sherry McComb, who was enjoying a girls' night at the restaurant, told WFMY on Dec. 11. "I've been in bed most of the day."
At least 32 individuals exhibited signs of carbon monoxide poisoning, and EMS transported 14 of them to medical facilities for further treatment. The rest, including McComb, were treated on-site.
"It just scares you to think, 'Oh my gosh what is happening to me?'" said McComb's friend, Stephanie Miner, who was also at the restaurant. "'Did I get infected by that much? What's going to happen?' It was not fun!"
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The restaurant's marketing coordinator Jenna Edwards said a heating technician fixed the odorless gas leak that night on Dec. 10. The restaurant is again open for business.
"Oh, we deeply regret what happened!" said Edwards. "I feel sorry for everybody that was back here. My biggest concern was for the children that were back here."
Wimmer, whose intuition and quick action kept the cautionary tale from becoming a tragic one, is being hailed as a local hero. To thank him, the fire department allowed him to take his usual shift off and walk in the town's annual Christmas parade, notes WGHP.
"I was happy that we were there," Wimmer said. "That we were able to get everybody out."