Emergency personnel safety meeting

Published 12:41 am Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Natural gas and propane can pose dangerous situations for emergency personnel.

To protect the firefighters, law officers and gas system personnel of the city and county, Federal Qualifier Danny Spencer shared some information on safety.

Spencer does yearly presentations to cities nationwide that are required by the federal government to keep emergency personnel up to date on safety. The object is to have the personnel think about safety while they work and get them home safe everyday.

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“Nobody ever comes to work with the intention of not going home,” Spencer said.

Three videos were shown to members of the Picayune Public Works Department, Picayune Fire and Police Departments and the Pearl River County Sheriff’s Department. A representative with Chevron also attended the meeting.

The videos showed what happens during a natural gas explosion and a propane explosion. Since natural gas is lighter than air, it rises to the ceiling in a room where a leak occurs. When the gas ignites, the flames and explosion are forced to the floor, causing the force of the explosion to affect the walls at the foundation. The opposite is true of propane, it is heavier than air and will settle to the floor during a leak. When ignited it’s explosive force is sent upward, forcing the explosion to separate walls at the ceiling, Spencer said.

The two videos that showed natural gas explosions did not show the explosion destroying the homes, but it did cause windows to blow out and the home to lift from the ground a short distance. The propane explosion, however, destroyed the home.

Spencer said consideration should be made by the emergency personnel that even after an explosion, there is still the possibility of a dangerous situation. Emergency personnel who enter the structure with the leak could face another explosion or gas ignition. He suggested personnel use equipment that will detect the presence of flammable gases before entering a structure with a suspected leak, before or after an explosion, and even then still use caution.

Firefighters have the highest job related mortality rate, due to a number of factors. One of those factors includes the number of dangerous chemicals they work around, such as Freon. When burned, Freon turns into the same chemical found in mustard gas, which can be lethal. The best protection is the use of gas and face masks, even long after apparent danger has passed.

Terrorist attacks also are a threat, even in small towns such as Picayune. Spencer went over a couple of possible scenarios and asked all emergency and city personnel to keep an eye out for suspicious activity.

When any kind of emergency presents itself, having a family emergency plan is crucial, especially for those who work in first responder jobs. If an incident strikes, people will first try to make sure their families are safe and accounted for, then turn their attention to jobs. If a plan is in place prior to an emergency, then those first responders, confident in the knowledge their families are safe, will report to work.

Spencer’s main point of the meeting was to promote safety in everything emergency personnel do, even things that may seem routine such as when law enforcement personnel direct traffic.