25 hospitalized in Omaha following evacuation of bank tower

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OMAHA, Neb. -- The Omaha Fire Department says a total of 25 people were transported to metro hospitals Thursday after an irritant got into the air and forced the evacuation of 2,000 people from the First National Bank Tower.

OFD said Thursday afternoon that the incident began with a call for a party having difficulty breathing. It quickly escalated.

Medics assessed 62 people on the scene. Thirty-seven of them required no treatment and the remaining 25 were transported to three hospitals. One transported in critical condition was said to be doing well by mid-afternoon.

Nebraska Medicine said 17 people treated there were all stable and doing well Thursday afternoon. By early evening, 16 of them had been released with the last one expected to follow shortly.

They say all were exposed to a irritant that caused respiratory problems. It was apparently hydrogen chloride gas which can cause severe respiratory distress

Omaha fire officials were called to the downtown building around 9 a.m. Battalion Chief Scott Fitzpatrick said the incident quickly escalated once the first fire crews arrived, "and it ended up becoming a Haz-Mat situation."

The building was partially evacuated during the initial response, then the entire building was cleared. An estimated 2,000 people were evacuated.

As of early afternoon, Fitzpatrick said they were still investigating to determine an exact cause of the incident. "Crews are going floor by floor throughout the structure to figure out the air quality and exactly, possibly what might be the cause of the irritant that's causing everybody some respiratory issues."

All of those transported to the hospital are employees of First National Bank.

Fire investigators say the cause is still under investigation but the focus is on the HVAC system and construction products that were being used.