Emergency responders play an important role in gas safety. In the rare event of a gas-related incident, you are usually the first to arrive at the scene. Natural gas and propane companies count on you to take charge and establish a safety zone until company representatives have arrived.
Prevention: the best defense against leaks
The best defense against gas leaks is prevention and awareness. Most incidents occur due to lack of knowledge. Natural gas and propane companies work hard to keep our systems safe for everyone. As an emergency official, you can do your part by keeping the following safety tips in mind:
• Know where the pipelines are in your jurisdiction. If you notice any missing, damaged or obscured pipeline markers, contact the company listed on the nearest marker so they can be replaced. As an emergency responder, you have access to the National Pipeline Mapping System (NPMS) which illustrates the location of interstate and intrastate gas pipelines, plants and other facilities throughout the country.
• Be on the lookout for any suspicious activity or unauthorized digging. By law, individuals must contact Miss Utility of Virginia at 811 or 1-800-552-7001, at least 48 hours (excluding weekends and legal holidays) BEFORE beginning any excavation or demolition project.
• Trust your senses. Here are the three main ways to detect a natural gas or propane leak:
SMELL — To help you SMELL a leak from a gas line or appliance, a familiar odor like rotten eggs is added to both propane and natural gas.
SEE — Near a leaking gas pipeline, you might SEE blowing dirt, bubbling water or an unusual area of dead vegetation.
HEAR — A leaking pipeline, appliance, storage tank or cylinder might make a hissing sound you can HEAR.
Help keep residents safe during a gas emergency
Here are some simple DOs and DON'Ts for emergency officials to remember if dispatched to a gas-related incident (the following tips are general guidelines; they are not meant to replace an existing emergency response plan):
• Call the company listed on the nearest pipeline marker with the location and type of emergency from a safe distance.
• Protect the public by evacuating and securing the area and providing traffic control and emergency services if necessary.
• Let escaping gas burn if on fire.
• Allow gas company representatives to operate valves.
• Use only intrinsically safe equipment.
• Attempt to operate any pipeline system equipment.
• Turn vehicles or equipment on or off or use a device that might create a spark, like a cell phone, without leaving the area first.
How gas companies respond
Once the appropriate company is notified, personnel are immediately dispatched to help handle the emergency, keep emergency officials informed and take necessary steps (e.g., starting and stopping equipment, closing and opening valves) to correct the problem.
To learn more...
For more information about natural gas emergency response and training, contact your local natural gas company. Another valuable online resource is www.pipelineemergencies.com, a Web site created by the National Association of State Fire Marshals (NASFM) and the U.S. Department of Transportation's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.
For more information about propane emergency response and training, contact the National Propane Gas Association www.npga.org or the Propane Education and Research Council (www.propanecouncil.org). These organizations have joined forces to offer a comprehensive training program to improve firefighter safety in response to propane-related incidents.