Special Photo. Firefighters gathered at the ball field in Porterdale on Oct. 21 to practice dealing with the hazards presented by a burning propane tank. About 20 participants, mostly volunteers, attended the training.
COVINGTON -- Area firefighters recently attended a pressurized container training class hosted by the Newton County Fire Service.
The class dealt mainly with the hazards presented by propane gas tanks in case of fire.
"There are still a lot of propane tanks in the county that are in close proximity to a house. Now, regulations require that they be at least 10 feet from a structure if they are over 150 gallons," explained Jody Nolan, deputy director of Newton County Emergency Risk Management, who also took part in the training.
"If there is a structure fire and the tank begins to heat up, then, of course, just like any other closed container, the product inside the container begins to heat up. There's a pop-off valve on that tank and once the tank gets to a certain temperature and pressure, that pop-off or pressure release valve will activate and disburse the gas into the atmosphere."
Nolan said when that happens, it simply fuels the fire until the pressure gets below a certain point and the valve reseals.
"But in the process, you still have to cut off the gas going into the house," Nolan said. "You have to make an approach to that cylinder and learn to deal with that tank venting while you're trying to cut the gas off going to the house. That's what the class was about."
Nolan said there were approximately 20 participants, most of whom were Newton County volunteers.
"They took their time on a Saturday to come out and do this training. We've got a lot of paid guys in the county, obviously, but we still have a lot of volunteers who are interested in protecting the community," he said.
Loyal Gas provided the propane.
"They came out there and stayed with us. We wouldn't have been able to do it without them," Nolan said.
"We just try to support the local fire departments anytime they need something like this," said Mark Allen of Loyal Gas. "We try to do as much as we can for them. The company is going to benefit from their training, as well. They're the first responders and are there before we're even called, and a lot of times they can resolve the situation before we get there."
Nolan pointed out that propane is a safe fuel, but often times folks are so accustomed to the convenience of having it, they forget that it is highly flammable.
"We become complacent with it because it's in our everyday lives," Nolan said. "People just get used to it being there and don't realize how volatile it can be if you have a problem like a propane leak or a gas leak inside your home. If it is in the wrong places, or it's exposed to high temperatures or used incorrectly, it is very dangerous. It is one of the most explosive products we have in large quantities throughout the county."
Nolan cautioned that homeowners should check their propane tanks for wear.
"A lot of tanks are owned by the supplier. You rent them ... and those tanks are in really good condition," he said. "But we've got tanks out there that are 50, 60 or 70 years old. "
He said though the tanks sit on short legs, over the years leaves and debris will build up under them so that eventually they are in contact with the ground. This causes rust which could result in a leak.
"Anybody who has questions about their propane tank should contact their supplier for an inspection," Nolan said. "Otherwise, the only way you're ever really going to know you have a problem with a tank if you smell gas."
Nolan said propane is a colorless, odorless and tasteless gas, but contains an additive that makes it smell like rotten eggs.
"Nobody likes that smell. If it smelled like daisies nobody would ever call and report a gas leak so that's why they put that awful smell in it," he said.
Nolan also cautioned about mishandling the smaller propane cylinders used for outdoor grills.
Sometimes people will put a grill cylinder in the trunk of their car and go off to the service station to get it refilled. If they're involved in a rear-end collision, there's a chance of it rupturing and nobody would even know it's there," he said.
He said the tanks should always be transported upright and anchored securely. They should never be placed in the passenger compartment of a vehicle or left in a closed car where heat can build up.
"Something as simple as opening up the car door could ignite gas that's leaked out inside of a vehicle," he said.
Nolan said everyone should know how to turn off propane or natural gas connections to their home in the event of a tornado or other natural catastrophe.
"It may be hours before the fire department is able to get there, so people need to learn how to secure their tank and cut off their power," he said.
He also said folks should be cautious if they find a propane tank that has been discarded as it may pose hidden dangers. He said methamphetamine manufacturers often steal tanks and put anhydrous ammonia inside. That chemical, used for flash freezing of food, is highly corrosive and will usually damage valves and fittings on the cylinder.
Nolan said propane is heavier than air and homeowners should know if they have a propane leak, the gas is going to go to the lowest point of the home.
"It tends to hug the ground," he said. "On the other hand, natural gas is lighter than air and natural gas is going to go upstairs or in an attic space. If you have a propane leak, it's going to be on the first floor, basement or crawl space."