By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN
BG Independent News
Columbia Gas officials have agreed to immediately notify Bowling Green Fire Division if gas leaks in the downtown construction area get close to dangerous levels again.
“We’ve come to an understanding that they will call us immediately if there is a leak of significant levels,” Bowling Green Fire Chief Bill Moorman said Monday morning.
Eleven days ago, a leak occurred in the downtown area of South Main Street, where Columbia Gas is replacing old natural gas lines. By the time the fire division was notified, the leaking gas had reached explosive levels, Moorman said.
Last Friday, Columbia Gas officials agreed to meet with Moorman and Bowling Green Public Works Director Brian Craft. City officials wanted to make sure if a similar incident occurred in the future that it would be handled differently by the gas company.
“We wanted to make sure we are called immediately,” Moorman said. “If we’re not needed, we can just go home” back to the fire station.
When the leak occurred on the evening of Sept. 13, Bowling Green Fire Division was not notified about the gas leak until at least two hours after gas odors were strong enough that some businesses shut down on the west side of the 100 block of South Main Street. Those businesses included Grounds for Thought, Lahey Appliance and Coyote Beads.
When the fire division arrived downtown, the smell of natural gas was obvious. Atmospheric tests done by firefighters showed explosive levels of gas.
“The gas levels were at a dangerous level,” Fire Chief Bill Moorman said. “It was getting to the point that a spark, anything can really set it off. Pretty much anything ignites natural gas.”
The Bowling Green Police Division joined the fire division in evacuating the businesses and residents in the general area of the leak in the 100 block of South Main Street. The street was also closed to traffic to reduce the risks.
After the leak, Columbia Gas defended its response.
“They followed all their protocols,” Moorman agreed. But city officials are not satisfied with those protocols.
Cheri Pastula, communications and community relations manager for Columbia Gas, said the gas crews followed proper procedures. The fire division was notified when the gas company knew the electricity needed to be shut off, she said. The fire division removed the electric meter from the buildings involved.
“We have gas professionals that are experienced in emergency response and will notify first responders when necessary,” Pastula said. “All of our policies and procedures were followed appropriately and most importantly, safely.”
However, after Friday’s meeting with city officials, Columbia Gas officials agreed to go beyond their protocols and immediately call the fire division in the case of a significant leak.
The work to replace aging gas lines downtown has been going on all summer. The work should be wrapping up sometime in October, said Assistant Municipal Administrator Joe Fawcett.
The meeting between city and gas officials should result in an improved response in case a leak occurs again, he said.
“They made a mistake, obviously,” Fawcett said.
“I’m happy that they saw the importance of meeting with the city staff,” he said. “And they were willing to modify their procedures.”