National Fire Fighter Near-Miss Reporting System: Gas Emergencies

The gas leak call can range from a dry trap in some plumbing to a major transmission line emitting a 100-foot rocket motor-like flame. With that range of possibilities, no gas leak should be thought of as “routine” or “non-hazardous” until a complete size-up is conducted. In this week’s featured report, firefighters enter a somewhat disjointed scene that could easily be described as, “Which came first, the collapse or the leak?” Either way, they escape serious injury by scant inches.

“We were dispatched for a report of a partial wall collapse with a gas leak at the site of a building under renovation. The building was of Type 3 construction that had all of its interior removed leaving only the four exterior walls standing. On arrival, size up revealed a steel “I” beam running from the “B” side to the “D” side of the building had slipped down the “D” side wall approximately six feet, dislodging portions of the brick wall. A strong odor of gas was noted A crew with a four-gas meter entered the “D” side exposure. After proceeding only approximately six feet into the building, the four-gas meter began alarming for an elevated LEL. The crew also noted that ceiling and wall looked to be damagedAs the crew exited building, the building under renovation experienced a total structural collapse. The crew was on the sidewalk in front of the “D” exposure when this occurred. Large sections of the wall landed on the sidewalk. One section of the debris struck a firefighter…”

A building under renovation should be assumed to be unstable. Temporary bracing, or in some instances no bracing, are warning signs that the structure is not being held up the way it was originally designed. The description of the building in this week’s report is a familiar site in many cities and towns where strong historical preservation groups require a building’s exterior to remain in its originally constructed state. The problems this creates for the emergency responder should be well noted. Service utilities coming into the building are often disrupted since the location of the lines can be somewhat of a mystery even with modern technology. In the end, crews responding to gas leaks at sites where buildings are being renovated should be well advised to observe the building and its components before entering. Once you have read the entire account (CLICK HERE) and the related reports on gas leaks, consider the following:
  1. How many occupancies in your first through fourth run district can you identify that meet the description of the structure in this week’s report?
  2. Is there any communication between you and the building authority regarding notification of such building projects in your jurisdiction?
  3. Place yourself as a member of the crew in this report. As the officer, what actions would you envision yourself taking? As one of the firefighters, what actions do you think you would take? Be sure to review the full narrative so you have a full understanding of what actions the crew took.
  4. When a “strong odor of gas” is detected, is there a correlation between the odor and the concentration?
  5. True or False? Only a few parts per million of the chemical mercaptan turn natural gas from a non-toxic substance to a highly toxic substance.

Submit your report to today so everyone goes home tomorrow.

Note: The questions posed by the reviewers are designed to generate discussion and thought in the name of promoting firefighter safety. They are not intended to pass judgment on the actions and performance of individuals in the reports.

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