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VI. Emergency Response

July 22, 1997 | By Arlin Wasserman
and Ron Gutowski
Great Lakes Bulletin News Service

VI. Emergency Response

My name is Ron Gutowski. I am the Chief of the Filer Township Fire Department. I am a Basic Emergency Medical Technician, and instructor for the American Red Cross and the Michigan Fire Fighter Training Council. I am certified in cold water and confined space rescue and am a member of an industrial Hazardous Materials Response Team.

I would like to thank you for the opportunity to present some of the problems fire departments have in responding to H2S leaks in residential areas.

We currently have in our township well heads which until recently were unidentified as to ownership. We only found the owners when they approached township officials and identified themselves as the new owners. Placement of these types of facilities in residential areas is a disaster waiting to happen. Equipment does fail, pipelines do break. People do dig holes in the ground without checking with pipeline companies first. What the cause of the accident is doesn't matter a whole lot when you're trying to evacuate two hundred or three hundred people.

Most normal healthy adults can withstand 10 ppm. What about the elderly, persons suffering from lung disease, infants, persons that are paralyzed and on life support?

We have all of these people in our township. How do I identify and locate 50 people when 100 or 200 homes are affected?

How many fire personnel will I need when they have 15 minutes of air on their back, 7 1/2 minutes to walk in and 7 1/2 minutes to walk out?

MIOSHA and the National Fire Protection Association require us to have one back up person for every person we send in. That means it takes six persons in full turn out gear with SCBA to send in a three person team to either survey levels or make rescues of ill persons.

When the leak is stopped and the emergency is over, we must check levels of H2S in every affected basement and every natural low area for up to two miles from the leak site.

Essentially, what I'm saying is it's next to impossible to rescue everyone in a residential area in the case of a serious release of H2S.

If the recommendations we have made about setting a new public health exposure limit, there will be no need for emergency response activities.

However, we still have producing wells in the township that contain dangerous levels of H2S. In order to protect citizens and rescue personnel, these preventive measures should be required.


* Require 48--hour advance notification of any activities that could result in any releases of dangerous levels of H2S.

* Require that well heads be surrounded by chain link fences with signs identifying the owners.

* Signs must list an up-to-date emergency phone number.

* Require that energy company emergency response personnel be available 24 hours a day seven days a week via pagers. The pager numbers should be on file with emergency dispatchers. Fire personnel are not trained to shut down well equipment or pipelines. A minimum response time should be set and companies should be required to adhere to the time limit.

* Require energy companies to provide to the fire service township maps with well sites and pipelines located and H2S levels shown for each.

* Require energy companies to provide comprehensive training to fire service, hospital, law enforcement and county emergency managers which includes a training scenario.

* Require energy companies drilling new wells to provide contingency plans to fire departments prior to commencing drilling operations. Currently these plans are located on site. If an emergency should take place we would have to go on the site of the emergency to retrieve the plan.

Finally, while investigating an "incident" early this year that sickened three people, I found a new pinnacle of frustration. After receiving the complaint, I contacted the DEQ Cadillac office. I was informed that an incident had taken place but that new equipment had been ordered installed to prevent further incidents or this type. When I asked what had happened, I was told that the information wasn't available to me. I then contacted the well owners and was informed that no incident had taken place.

Approximately one week later I received a complaint of another type and contacted the Cadillac office of the DEQ again. The person in charge of this well would not return my call. I made three additional calls none of which were ever returned.

My question to you is why would your personnel refuse to talk to the local fire chief?

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