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...


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  • Scene control — "A strong command presence was needed to control the scene as well as responders," Lake said. "This was very important to control freelancing and account for all responders on scene. Several different departments worked together on this scene in different capacities with positive results."
  • Training with private industry — "Have a good working relationship with pipeline companies," Lake said. "Our area has regular safety meetings, training sessions and current information flow. This is essential to be able to work together to control this type of incident. We were able to talk directly to the people responsible for not only the pipeline but also for gas service for the sub-division. This turned out to be a benefit so service could be restored and families allowed to return to their homes after only hours instead of a longer time frame. This also afforded us monitoring equipment and personnel trained to deal with natural gas emergencies which helped return residents home quicker."
  • Accountability — "Accountability was challenging in this incident," the chief said. "Our department has decided to review our accountability procedure and institute a new process for identifying our members. This has also been addressed by our regional preparedness commission as a priority for all responders in our area."
  • Caring for civilians — "At the earliest possible time, we assigned a member of our support services unit to the middle school where interaction with displaced residents could take place," Lake said. "This helped us tremendously with being able to give regular updates, check for anyone with injuries or special needs, and work with news media personnel so they too were informed."

Subsequent to the incident, the Pipeline Hazardous Materials Administration finished gathering samples from the explosion site. The samples were taken to Washington, DC, for an investigation.

MICHAEL GARLOCK is a Florida- and New York-based writer specializing in fire service responses to major incidents.