The gas leak….never let your guard down!

On Friday night November 23, 2012 there was a catastrophic gas leak in the city of Springfield Massachusetts. I was not on scene and certainly do not know all of the facts, but this close call should be a time to review our normal procedures for gas leak responses.

From listening to the radio audio last night, seeing pictures and videos it appears that the SFD did a very good job in handling what could have been a horrible tragedy.

Lets just run through a basic “to do list” at this type of incident.

Treat the gas leak for what it is a hazmat response. Identify if it is natural gas or propane gas, and attempt to locate the source.

If the source can be located and shut down by fire department personnel, then do so, but notify the appropriate utility company upon your arrival anyway.

If firefighters are entering the hot zone then they should have metering capability and full protective gear. Expect explosion or ignition. ( I can tell you from experience that I have always been leery of gas emergencies ever since the Buffalo NY 5 LODD incident from the early 1980s but I will also tell you that there have been some times that I have not dressed appropriately at some gas emergencies that I responded to. Be different from me, be smart and not lucky!)

Isolate the area and deny entry and eliminate all sources of ignition, including us and the apparatus we drive in with. Consider eliminating electrical utilities if it can be done safely and remotely. Do not attempt to shut off mains etc, inside the building involved.

If there is so much gas when you arrive (that is to say that the gas is above the UEL or upper explosive limits) then as you passively ventilate the area the gas will pass through its explosive range, while you are on scene. This could occur some time after arrival and it is a time when on scene firefighters who do not have an assignment will tend to wander away. Strict scene control is important. Stage personnel behind fire apparatus whenever possible.

As I listened and watched the incident from afar last night here are some things I heard.

The first due company officer staged out of the way, established a hydrant line, met with gas company officials, correctly identified “free flowing gas” with an unknown source, called for electric company to secure power, called for additional resources and manpower, and had the police isolate and secure the area. It simply doesn’t get much better than that, and there was still an explosion the injured about 18 people, leveled 2 buildings and damaged many others. There are reports that the explosion was felt ten miles away.

This explosion occurred after the gas company had located and stopped the leak and SFD took it seriously throughout the incident and did not let their guard down.

So they have had the gas leak and the explosion and 9 firefighters, a couple of policemen and some gas company workers were injured. (Non life threatening), so what can we do who have not had this experience?

Over the next few days, learn study, research everything you can about this incident.

Make sure on Monday morning you find out from the chief if your meters have been calibrated and if you have meters on EVERY piece of apparatus. NO EXCEPTION. We have hose, air packs and nozzles, we should have meters….it is a life saving piece of gear that should be on all apparatus.

Read the DOT guidebook and look up the procedures and guide number for natural and propane gas. We handle these incidents so many times we never even look at the book anymore. Look at it on your next shift.

Study the properties of each gas, vapor density and flammable limits and understand what the mean. Use the NIOSH book, or MSDS sheets.

Make sure you know what your meter reads. Is your meter giving you percent of gas, or percent of LEL lower explosive limits?

Our thoughts and prayers go out to the first responders who were injured, and lets take this teachable moment and use it to help teach firefighters with less experience how to stay safe.

A gas leak is not over until we are back in service and back in quarters.

Pete Lamb @ Copyright 2012
For information contact pete@petelamb.com