Fire Department Is Now Responding to All Gas-Odor Calls
New York City’s Fire Department has started responding to all reports of gas odors that the city receives. This is a change in policy put into effect in the wake of the March 12 explosion in East Harlem that leveled two apartment buildings, killing eight people and injuring at least 70 others.
Under the new protocol, calls to the city’s 311 information line from people who think they smell gas will be transferred to 911 and result in a response by the Fire Department. Traditionally, a utility company used to respond first to most calls. The new procedures were detailed in a report issued by a task force on the city’s underground infrastructure.
According to Consolidated Edison, it receives more than 30,000 gas-odor calls annually and responds to all of them, but notifies the Fire Department only about those that it considers urgent. The new policy is likely to result in the Fire Department’s responding to many more calls than it has in the past, a large share of which will prove to be false alarms. Con Edison said that about 40 percent of the calls it receives turn up no sign of a gas leak.
The first report of a possible gas leak before the East Harlem explosion in March came in about 20 minutes before the blast, officials said. By the time the Con Edison crew arrived at the scene, an explosion had set fire to two buildings that quickly collapsed. The task force was formed after that disaster cast a bright light on the condition of the pipes that lie beneath the city streets. After the blast on Park Avenue, investigators found a leak in a century-old, cast-iron main that Con Edison used to distribute natural gas to the buildings.
Con Edison has gradually been replacing all of its old cast-iron and steel mains with plastic ones that are less prone to leaking. But that project will take several years at its current pace. The report called for more coordination between city agencies and utilities so that whenever a street is dug up for any reason, any old pipes exposed may be replaced.