By Jeremy Pittari, Item Staff Writer
The Picayune Item
Picayune’s firefighters and natural gas employees met with a consultant for a presentation on safely responding to natural gas leaks.
The presentation, conducted by Charlie Bogert, a consultant with Mid South Utility Services, was not so much a meeting to tell the departments what to do, but to break the ice so both departments could come to an agreement on how best to respond to a natural gas leak.
At the end of the meeting it was determined that natural gas leaks, for the most part, would be best handled by gas department employees, with the fire department nearby should a fire break out.
Bogert gave those in attendance a short overview of natural gas and its properties as they pertain to emergency situations. Since natural gas is lighter than air, leaks in an outside area will dissipate quickly, but when a leak occurs in an enclosed structure, it could be dangerous. Breathing in large concentrations of natural gas can be deadly, essentially causing a person to “drown”, Bogert said.
Natural gas is odorless, colorless and tasteless, so unless an odorant is added to it — as is done by most utilities that deal in natural gas — leaks would not be detected by the human sense of smell. Even if an odorant is added, some leaks that occur in underground pipes can go undetected due to the capacity of some soils to leach the odorant from the gas, Bogert said.
The best way to detect a leak and to determine how bad the leak is would be to use a device called a combustible gas indicator, Bogert said. City gas employees have some of the devices on hand, and a couple of fire personnel do as well.
Natural gas is dangerous when the level of it in the air is between 4.5 percent to 14.5 percent. Bogert said most cell phones are capable of emitting a spark that can ignite natural gas in the air, so he advised both gas department employees and firefighters to leave their cell phones in their vehicles when responding to a leak. Once ignited, the temperature of burning natural gas can reach temperatures of 3,400 degrees Fahrenheit.Steel begins to melt at 2,800 degrees Fahrenheit.
Bogert advised the city employees to establish a situational command post for gas leaks, especially in areas where leaks could become severe. Command posts should be close to the leak or emergency, but at a safe distance from the leak.
Firefighters were advised to avoid entering regulator stations when responding to a natural gas emergency. Bogert said the stations typically have a number of safety devices installed and tampering with anything in a regulator station such as valve or pipe could create a dangerous situation. He said it is best to let the natural gas employees handle any adjustments that may be needed in a regulator station.
Bogert said his presentation is required by federal regulations, and is really just a way to break the ice between the two departments so they can come together to form their own plan to respond to natural gas emergencies.