Last week, people living on a Paterson street recognized the “rotten egg” smell of natural gas and called 911. Firefighters and police officers arrived and quickly evacuated everyone to a safe distance before the house exploded, damaging nearby dwellings. While the cause of the incident is being investigated, one thing is abundantly clear: Residents and first responders – including PSE&G – knew what to do and made sure everyone got out of their homes safely.
As a first-responder myself, I know that a well-executed response to a gas leak emergency such as we had in Paterson doesn’t “just happen.” It is a result of education, training and practice.
The protocol for responding to a gas leak is different from a fire. In the case of a gas emergency, evacuees should be moved at least 330 feet away from the source of the leak to avoid injury from a possible explosion. This was one lesson reinforced during a recent full scale gas emergency exercise conducted with our Cresskill Fire Department and Police, emergency medical personnel, and PSE&G.
PSE&G holds these gas drills with first responders across the state. Emergency exercises allow us to make mistakes and learn from them, so we don’t make those same mistakes again in a real emergency.
During the drill, we learned the steps PSE&G takes when responding, and practiced coordination, communication and the simple logistics of where to position our fire engines. It improved our understanding of what PSE&G needs from us, and we were able to show them what our fire department needs in a gas emergency scenario.
The Cresskill Fire Department responds to about 105 reports of gas leaks every year. PSE&G responds to about 95,000 reports of gas odor a year. The vast majority of these reports are “false alarms,” or gas is present, but not at dangerous levels. As first responders, we have to fight the urge to become complacent about these calls. Complacency kills.
Often, when we do receive a call from someone reporting a gas leak, they are apologetic. They don’t want to “bother us.” My plea to people is, “please bother us” by reporting the smell of gas. Call 911. And “bother” PSE&G, too. Their gas emergency line is 800-880-7734.
Trust me, it’s no bother. Keeping you safe is our job.
Christopher S. Ulshoefer, Chief of Department – Cresskill Fire Department