Edison (NJ) DPW Explosion Destroys Facility, Equipment and Highlights a Long-Standing Challenge


Video: NJ.com

A large fire with spreading flames. Loud explosions. Multi alarms (it was reported to be three alarms by 11 p.m.). Destruction of the Department of Public Works (DPW) New Durham Road complex and the town equipment it housed. Threats to residential exposures. For some responders and residents, these aspects of the fire/explosion that began around 10 p.m. Thursday, January 29, and continued into the next day, must have been déjà vu. According to Brian Amaral of NJ Advance Media for NJ.com, the fire was mostly under control at midnight, but authorities were not able to shut off a gas valve quickly enough, causing a hot spot of flames to continue into today. The cause of the fire has not yet been determined. There were no injuries. The heat melted the siding to two nearby residential exposures, but residents were not evacuated. The full story with photos can be accessed at http://bit.ly/1zmKDTA

According to Amaral, “This is at least the fourth fire at an Edison DPW facility since 2012.” http://bit.ly/1uJ5UCE  

Actually, www.fireengineering.com archives contain the report “Night Into Day: The Edison, New Jersey, Gas Pipeline Explosion,” by Albert J. Lamkie and David Davis, which covers a catastrophic gas explosion that also posed difficulties for responders attempting to turn off the source of the gas. The authors describe a catastrophic rupture of a 36-inch Texas Eastern Transmission Corporation (TETCO) natural gas transmission pipeline. The incident occurred on March 23, 1994. The incident was considered ”the largest fire incident to occur in Middlesex County up to that time,” according to the authors. The article states:  “An 80-foot-long rupture in the pipe occurred on property occupied by the Quality Materials, Inc. asphalt plant and ripped a crater approximately 100 feet long, 50 feet wide, and 40 feet deep. This sent a shower of bedrock and shale; some pieces the size of bowling balls, as far as 800 feet in all directions. A 40-foot section of ruptured pipeline was hurled 350 feet by the blast. At the Durham Woods apartment’s complex, debris smashed through windows and roofs, breaking tables, knocking kitchen cabinets off the walls, and, in one case, breaking a man’s leg as he lay in bed.” The TETCO natural gas transmission line, installed in the Edison area in 1961 and 1962, spans 1.8 miles across Edison Township. At the Quality Materials site, the pipeline bury depth was 15 feet.  Command noted that the “pressing operational needs in this rapidly unfolding incident” –the fires and mass evacuation of the Durham Woods apartments complex of 63 two- and three-story, wood-frame buildings—“held equal priority with achieving pipeline product shutoff.”

Eight structures containing 125 units in Durham Woods were totally incinerated. Damage from the Edison gas explosion exceeded $25 million. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB found “numerous inadequacies with respect to pipeline safety practices.”  in this densely populated area. They included “the pipe material itself, pipeline marking, surveillance procedures, damage prevention programs, rapid detection and shutdown, internal inspections, and land use management.” The NTSB postincident recommendations included the following: installing automatic or remote-operated mainline valves on high-pressure lines in densely populated areas, ‘toughness’ standards for pipelines installed in urban areas, marking system requirements for pipelines in these areas, creating a more aggressive and effective public education pipeline safety program, and more closely monitoring and documenting all excavations near pipelines.  The NTSB reported, “TETCO surpassed many federal regulations at the time of the explosion, but its lack of automatic- or remote-operated valves on the transmission line prevented rapid shutdown and contributed to the damage at Durham Woods. Rapid shutdown mechanisms are absolutely essential in heavily populated areas.” The full report is at http://bit.ly/1zmypua.

Mary Jane DittmarMARY JANE DITTMAR is senior associate editor of Fire Engineering and conference manager of FDIC. Before joining the magazine in January 1991, she served as editor of a trade magazine in the health/nutrition market and held various positions in the educational and medical advertising fields. She has a bachelor’ degree in English/journalism and a master’ degree in communication arts.

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