Texas Pipeline Explosion Challenges Rural Responders

Explosions of natural gas pipelines are unexpected, violent, and frequently result in significant loss of lives and property. They can occur anytime, anyplace on land and at sea. An Internet sampling found the following: On March 18, 1937, a natural...


Explosions of natural gas pipelines are unexpected, violent, and frequently result in significant loss of lives and property. They can occur anytime, anyplace on land and at sea. An Internet sampling found the following: On March 18, 1937, a natural gas leak caused an explosion that destroyed...


To access the remainder of this piece of premium content, you must be registered with Firehouse. Already have an account? Login

Register in seconds by connecting with your preferred Social Network.

OR

Complete the registration form.

Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required

Potter County encompasses 910 square miles. Potter County Fire/Rescue provides primary response for 853 square miles. Part of the county lies within the city limits of Amarillo, with which it has automatic and mutual aid agreements. The department is part of the Potter/Randall Office of Emergency Management and has automatic and mutual aid contracts with Randall County and other neighboring entities. Potter County Fire/Rescue's area of responsibility is semi-rural to urban with vast amounts of ranch operations. Many communities are spread out through the area. The department offers full-service response from medical first response to technical rescue. The members deal primarily with medical emergencies, motor vehicle crashes and extrications, wildland and structural fires, industrial incidents and fires as well as high-angle, confined-space, building collapse and Level A hazardous materials responses.

Before the explosion, there were no other reported incidents with the pipeline in the area. However, in 2007, the corporation agreed to a $15.5 million fine as part of a settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice and pipeline safety regulators involving the explosion near Carlsbad, NM, that killed 12 members of the same family who were camped near the pipeline. That particular blast occurred in a 50-year-old, 30-inch pipeline that left a 20-foot-deep crater that was 86 by 46 feet in size. The corporation also committed to spending $86 million to modify the pipeline system. At the time of the Bushland explosion, which involved a 24-inch pipeline about one mile north of Bushland, the modifications were 93% complete, although it was unclear whether the Bushland pipeline was modified. A civil trial involving emotional distress claims by first responders to the Carlsbad blast is underway in Roswell, NM.

"The call was received at our communications center at 1:10 A.M. on Thursday, November 5," Potter County Fire/Rescue Chief Richard Lake said. "Our department responded with a general-alarm response bringing all available units and personnel. The fire could be seen for miles so the communications center was flooded with 911 calls bringing an automatic aid response from the Amarillo Fire Department consisting of one ladder, four engines and three command units."

Mutual Aid Called In

Mutual response from other agencies was swift and substantial.

"Randall County responded with an engine, grass rig and tender," Lake said. "The cities of Canyon, Wildorado, Vega and Boys Ranch responded with engines and tenders. The EOC (emergency operations center) was activated with a mobile command unit sent to the scene and support staff at Amarillo City Hall. Amarillo Medical Services responded with three ambulances and Baptist St. Anthony's responded with two ambulances."

Multiple other agencies assisted, including the Red Cross, utility companies, Amarillo Police Department, Potter County Sheriff's Department, Randall County Sheriff's Department, Amarillo Emergency Services, Texas Department of Public Safety, Texas Department of Transportation and Bushland Independent School District officials.

"The reason for such an initial response was the potential for loss of life and injuries," Lake said. "We also made sure we had adequate resources available in case of other incidents occurring in the county while all of our resources were committed."

The Prairie West subdivision encompasses roughly one square mile and has approximately 300 homes. The area is still in the process of development and many lots are vacant. It is served by three streets intersecting with a major thoroughfare called FM 2381. It is roughly shaped like a horseshoe with winding roads. Wildland apparatus were also called in, as were an adequate number of tenders for a sustained water supply. The subdivision has no hydrants and a water shuttle was needed for any fire attack. One ladder truck was initially on scene and was released after it was determined it would not be needed.

"First-arriving crews found a great deal of chaos," Lake said. "A 24-inch natural gas pipeline was flaming about 500 to 700 feet in the air. Multiple grass fires were threatening homes and property, people who live in the area were in shock and many onlookers were flocking to the area causing a great deal of traffic congestion. In addition to the grass fires, a home and shop were on fire, another five homes close by were threatened and utility poles anywhere close to the scene were burning, leaving live power lines across roadways and driveways. Upon my arrival, I found many law enforcement and fire units beginning to organize an evacuation of the neighborhood. This became an immediate priority and the high school was used as a staging area for responders because it was closer to the incident. The middle (Bushland Middle School) was used to shelter (approximately 60) residents and a triage area was set up for anyone who may possibly be injured."