Training day: Firefighters, gas company practice explosion response

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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

— Had it been a real explosion, firefighters Tuesday morning would have evacuated the Kennedy Apartments, Target and the Janesville Mall.

If the explosion had started a fire, the evacuation zone would have stretched to include Prent, Hooters and Menards.

Rather than either of those ugly scenarios, Janesville Fire Department personnel and employees of TransCanada talked through how they would respond to a leak in the gas transmission line that cuts east to west across Janesville's north side.

Firefighters and gas company employees worked Tuesday morning during a training scenario at the former Rock Theater, 1620 Newport Drive. TransCanada's pipeline runs underground along the south side of the building.

TransCanada owns the ANR pipeline, a natural gas transmission line between Amarillo, Texas, and Green Bay.

The 10,600-mile line delivers 1 trillion cubic feet of natural gas annually, according to a TransCanada news release.

The 10-inch line moves gas pressurized at 800 pounds per square inch.

That's 20 times more pressure than the air inside a car tire, said TransCanada spokesman Tim Ross.

Along the pipeline are distribution stations owned by power companies such as Alliant Energy. At the stations, gas is moved from the large transmission lines to smaller service lines that run to homes or businesses.

If the transmission line blew a leak, it would look like a fountain of rocks, soil and sod spraying from the ground. As the leak continued, it would create a large crater at the site of the break, Ross said.

On Tuesday, firefighters "responded" to the call of an explosion near the former theater. They could see one person hunched over the controls of a skid steer and another man lying in the grass.

First responders' primary task is to evacuate people within a half mile of the leak. If the gas were on fire, the evacuation zone would be a mile in all directions.

Hazards from the explosion include flying debris, fire and inhalation of natural gas, Ross said. People could suffocate if they inhaled too much natural gas.

In addition to getting people out of harm's way, firefighters would need to alert TransCanada workers of the problem.

Standing at the site of the explosion, Ross pointed east toward Milton Avenue and west to Kennedy Road. Visible from the "explosion" site are yellow posts marking the spots where the pipeline runs under the roads. A toll-free number is painted on each of the posts. As part of the training session, TransCanada employees make sure participating firefighters know to look for those posts and call the number, Ross said.

At that point, TransCanada employees would be dispatched. At least one would respond to the site of the leak. Others would respond to the closest distribution stations on either side of the leak. They would shut off the flow of gas and safely reduce the pressure inside the pipe, Ross said.

Four TransCanada employees work in the Janesville area, Ross said. They are based a half-hour from the line and should be able to respond to an emergency within an hour, he said.

Emergency responders are not to approach the leak until pressure is reduced to 10 pounds per square inch, Ross said.

At that point Tuesday, emergency responders would have been able to approach the two people at the site of the break. In the scenario, the skid steer operator had a heart attack and lost consciousness. The trencher, which looked like an enormous chainsaw attached to the front of the skid steer, cut into the pipe.

In the training scenario, the trencher rested on a 3-foot section of pipe that had been ripped open in an actual emergency.

The other injured person, represented by an empty pair of coveralls and a blue hard hat, was a TransCanada employee on site to oversee digging. A TransCanada worker would do so in the case of actual construction, Ross said.

That person was knocked out by debris from the explosion, he said.

TransCanada conducts annual training sessions with local emergency responders, Ross said.

"That way we're all on the same page in case of an emergency," he said.


Last updated: 4:44 pm Tuesday, August 27, 2013

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