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Do you know what to do if your boiler overheats?

PSE&G safety exercise focuses on overheating boilers.

An overheating boiler is a dangerous situation that could lead to injury and/or explosion so prepping for such an emergency took center stage recently as members of the Nutley Fire Department and PSE&G’s Orange Gas District participated in a virtual tabletop safety exercise.

Significant flooding this year from storms like Henri and Ida also has increased the risk of overheating boilers. Not only should customers prepare by learning the signs and calling right away if they suspect overheating, but increased awareness is also important for first responders.

“We respond to multiple incidents with overheated boilers every winter,” said Nutley Fire Lt. William Cassidy said. “Continuous training with PSE&G is extremely helpful in maintaining the safety of our first responders and our residents.”

Cassidy noted that while firefighters are accustomed to rushing into buildings ready to douse fires with water, doing so in an overheated boiler situation could result in injury.

“Don’t treat this situation like a fire,” Orange Gas District Manager Doug Todd. “Stay away from the boiler. If you can hit it with an infrared detector through a window to get readings, do that and turn the gas off from the outside.”

PSE&G HVAC Service Inspector Mark Smith inspects a boiler

PSE&G Service Specialist Wayne Talmo said that as soon as he arrives for an overheating boiler call, he asks the customer and all occupants to leave the home or office so that he can ask them a series of questions that help determine the severity of the issue.

If the boiler is overheating, the building is evacuated for eight hours while the gas is shut off, to give the boiler time to cool down. Depending on the type of boiler, the electricity may be left on – to help the boiler cool down, or shut off – to prevent accidental ignition.

“A service technician has years of experience with different types of boilers,” Talmo said. “Only an experienced service technician will be able to ascertain the level of danger just from talking to a customer on the front lawn.”

Talmo said customers who suspect overheating should be prepared to answer questions such as the following:

  • What type of boiler do you have? Where is it located?
  • Did you smell smoke or a burning smell?
  • Is there excessive heat being produced in the basement or living areas?
  • Is the emergency switch in the off position?
  • How long has the boiler been running out of control? What did it look like last? i.e. – cherry red color, paint peeling off, position of temperature or pressure gauges, leaking water or steam?
  • Did you or anyone else touch any part of the heating system before it started overheating? i.e. – disturbed the wiring, installed a thermostat, lit a pilot, started the unit for first time this year, turned a valve, repaired a water leak, etc.
  • What steps have you or others taken so far to control the situation? i.e., shut off thermostat, shut off emergency switch, shut off the gas, etc.
  • Has the boiler ever been exposed to flooding?

Appliance Service Technical Support Manager Paul Pirro noted it’s important that customers answer questions the best they can but that, for safety, they shouldn’t take extra steps, like going close to the boiler to examine it, if they haven’t already.

“We rely almost exclusively on our questioning process to ensure we properly assess the situation,” Pirro said. “We’re careful in not approaching the boiler even after it is turned off, until it has cooled down.”

Pirro played a key role in creating new safety guidelines after a 2011 boiler explosion in Manville severely injured two PSE&G employees. He said PSE&G teams discuss overheating boilers when they offer training to fire departments, but that increased awareness is critical.

The tabletop exercise, which included about 50 people, was coordinated by PSE&G Emergency Preparedness Manager Matt Khaled with assistance from Nutley Fire Captain Bill Vonroth.

For more information on overheating boilers, visit https://nj.pseg.com/safetyandreliability/gassafety/appliancesafety.

Lauren Ugorji, Lead Writer - PSE&G

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