Tainted cash sickens bank employees in outer East Portland

INCLUDED VIDEO VIGNETTE | This ‘HazMat’ call-out was real! Here’s why crews cordoned off a bank in the Lents neighborhood …

At this outer East Portland bank, Portland Fire & Rescue crews arrive and begin to investigate what caused the employees to feel ill, not long after opening for the day.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton

When workers in the Bank of America branch at 4000 SE 82nd Avenue of Roses started feeling a bit sick on Tuesday morning, September 28, Portland Fire & Rescue (PF&R) crews were summoned to investigate. It was 10:25 a.m., shortly after the bank opened.

Out of an abundance of caution, PF&R routinely sends its Hazardous Materials Response Team (HazMat) to investigate any incident where people are suspected of being in contact with chemicals or other substances that might make people ill – but, typically, no hazards are located.

However, this time, the health threat was real.

As firefighters stand by, a PF&R HazMat crew member carefully checks out cash brought outside, to the front of the bank, using an air monitoring device.

“Initially an AMR ambulance was dispatched to the bank due to the report of a sick person,” confirmed PF&R Public Information Officer Terry Foster.

Outside the bank, two employees had donned white protective Tyvek® “bunny suits” with booties. One of them was checked out by paramedics in an ambulance, and was released – as more PF&R crew members arrived at the scene.

With the cash exposed to the hazardous materials cordoned off, the investigation into the HazMat incident is well underway.

“Upon further questions by the dispatcher, and possibility of multiple patients in the bank, they upgraded the call by adding fire responders,” Foster told East Portland News.

The bank was promptly evacuated. “A total of three patients were treated at the scene; one person was taken to a local hospital for medical evaluation and possible treatment,” Foster reported.

See the calm, professional approach members of the PF&R HazMat Unit 7 take at an incident in this VIDEO VIGNETTE:

As the incident unfolded, a total of nine PF&R units had gathered at the bank, including PF&R HazMat Unit 7 from the Mill Park Station.

“Portland Fire’s HazMat team responded to the location, and took all precautions,” Foster said. “The crews found that, when employees had opened a bag of money, they started feeling the irritation.

Wearing breathing apparatus, gloves, and a full turnout suit, this firefighter uses an electronic “sniffer” to detect chemicals on contaminated cash.

Firefighters prepare to enter the bank building to search for remaining chemical irritants.

“The HazMat team found that the money had trace amounts of a chemical irritant,” Foster informed.

HazMat determined that the amount of chemical on the money and items that came in contact with it, was in small enough amounts that the bank could handle the cleanup by itself, Foster added. Just what that chemical irritant was – has not yet been disclosed.

© 2021 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News™



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