By Michael Hill
A contractor installing an underground cable ruptures a natural gas line and causes a leak. An emergency call goes out. Firefighters respond.
Police evacuate two homeowners. A PSE&G crew comes.
It looks for the leak, pinpoints its source, calls in a backhoe to dig for and repair the damaged line, but then a car horn indicates an explosion.
Firefighters order everyone to move away.
Seconds later: “This is just a drill.”
It was all just a training exercise on Oakley Terrace in Nutley. PSE&G says it does a dozen drills a year but rarely with first responders.
“In this case, it’s especially unique because we have a live dirll with the fire department and the police department together with us and it really gives us a chance for everyone to work together,” said PSE&G Vice President of Gas Operations Joseph A. Forline.
“Gives our first responders the ability to meet that person in charge of that Public Service. I think it’s more relationships and confidence in people,” said Nutley Mayor and Public Safety Director Alphonse Petracco.
PSE&G says it gets 300 to 400 calls a day this time of year from folks smelling gas, hearing a hissing or suspecting a leak.
“No gas leak is too small to call in and we’ll come out and we’ll check it out and we’ll make sure it’s safe,” Forline said.
Even after gas company workers and firefighters had responded to a gas leak, an empty house under renovation blew up last year injuring 15 in Stafford Township. If you suspect a leak, the advice is to open windows and doors, get out of the house and report the leak. Don’t turn on or off lights or appliances, don’t light up, start a car or use a phone.
PSE&G says contractor, construction worker and resident error cause 40 percent of all gas line ruptures and it calls each one of them avoidable.
“One of the things we try to remind the public and all the residents is to call 811. It’s the law and you need to call mark out before you dig underground,” Forline.
The utility and first responders will share and compare notes about today’s drill. In the meantime, PSE&G says New Jersey has one of the highest rates in America of natural gas use to heat homes and that gas is not dangerous when it’s sealed.