Morgan City Controls Dangerous LP Gas Fire
—Photo by Raymond
—Photo by Jesse T. Grice
A COURAGEOUS and quick-thinking truck driver was severely burned while attempting to shut off a heating unit to prevent ignition of a cloud of propane gas which swept through a driveway of a residence where he was making a delivery in Morgan City, La., on May 12. The driver, Edward Francis, stated he was delivering gas to 1802 Federal Avenue, with his supply line running in the driveway between 1800 and 1802. He happened to glance up and noticed a cloud of gas so large that he could not tell where it was coming from. He immediately jumped onto the top of his dual-tank truck to check the relief valves but these were not the cause of the cloud. He then jumped to the ground, shut off the truck motor, the pump and anything else that was running. At the same time he yelled to anyone within hearing distance, including a group of children in a schoolyard across the street, to leave the area.
The wind was blowing about 5 mph from the southwest through the driveway, and the alert driver realized that his next move was to shut off any domestic heating or hot water units in the vicinity, lest the heavier-than-air gas come in contact with open flame. He ran to the rear of 1800 Federal Avenue, and spotted a hot water heater on the rear porch. Just as he was about to turn it off, the gas reached the flame and ignited with a great puff. Francis was bowled over and severely burned, and two civilians received minor burns on the face and arms.
The leak was caused by a break in a 2-inch braided-wire hose that connected the pump and meter on the truck. The flaming gas at the heater flashed back to this source, causing fire both under the track and around the cab. The heat thus generated expanded the gas in the double tanks, and the relief valve on one opened, sending a jet of flaming gas 50 feet into the sky.
A member of Engine 3, just three blocks away, saw the flame from quarters and turned the company out just as Box 113 was transmitted. The alarm brought the response of Engine 5 and the writer from the Central Station 1 mile away. Both companies stretched two booster lines equipped for fog, together with two 1½-inch hand lines from Engine 3 and one from Engine 5. In short order the tanks were cooled, the pressure reduced on the one supplying the burning jet, and the relief valve closed. However, the relief valve did not close all the way due to heat damage and a quantity of gas continued to bum at this source. Meanwhile the fire was still burning at the leak and around the cab, and the other tank vented, presenting the firemen with the same situation as before. The fire was again subdued, but the men were now confronted with two relief valves that were damaged, each spewing forth a reduced but still dangerous quantity of gas.
Dining the action one company officer was ordered to the top of the track with a dry chemical extinguisher to put out the flame from the vent, and another was ordered to use a carbon dioxide extinguisher on the leaking line beneath the truck. However, their actions were not sufficiently coordinated and the officer beneath the truck extinguished his fire before the one on top. As a result, the fire beneath again flashed, burning this officer on the face and neck. This officer had all protective clothing on —boots, helmet, bunker coat and gloves — except for an aluminized hood which the department supplies and which should have been worn. The fire was again extinguished and two high-pressure lines were used to keep the gas dispersed.
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MORGAN CITY LP FIRE
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Service men from the company supplying the gas had in the meantime been summoned. A survey of the truck determined that the leaks could not be stopped. The writer then ordered a wrecker to take the truck some 8 miles out of the city to a safe location, at which point the gas company took over. An escort of seven police units were used to keep all traffic cleared in transit.
Morgan City has a population of 13,500 with a fire department consisting of a paid chief, 12 paid men and 30 volunteers. Response to this tricky and dangerous fire included all of the paid men, five of whom were off duty, and 10 volunteer members. Shortly before this fire, the department had been practicing proper methods of handling flammable gas fires. Despite the unfortunate burns suffered by one officer, this training paid off in quick and efficient control of a dangerous emergency.