What to Do if a Gas Leak is Suspected

Marshfield Fire and Rescue Department Advises on Safety Measures

Marshfield Fire & Rescue Department investigates many gas leaks or suspicious odors. In 2016, they responded to 20 gas calls (16 detected gas, 4 odor calls). In 2017, the responders investigated 17 gas calls (7 detected gas, 10 odor calls).

If a gas leak is suspected, immediate action should be taken to prevent the dangers.

“A gas leak is whenever gas escapes containment into an area where it should not be present,” said Jody Clements, Deputy Fire Chief and UST/AST inspector (Underground Storage Tank/Aboveground Storage Tank). “This can occur by different means: A couple examples would be a failure in a line caused by physical damage, or someone turning on a burner of a gas stove and having unburned gas escape into the atmosphere. Leaks are categorized as intentional and unintentional. Subcategory would be physical damage and product failure.”

While natural gas is naturally odorless, for safety Methyl Mercaptan is added to create a rotten egg smell. “A normal person can detect Mercaptan smell at one tenth of a part per billion,” said Clements. A hissing noise can also be a sign, particularly for diggers that hit a line.

If there’s a gas leak, the person should leave the structure without touching the thermostat or turning the lights on or off, and call 911 from a safe location.

“Gas leaks are dangerous because an undetected small leak within a confined space (inside a structure) can build up enough fuel (energy potential) to create a large explosion,” he said. “We use quad gas meters to monitor the atmosphere to keep the public and responders safe when we are investigating, We don’t use smell as a determination of threat.”

Concerns about gas leaks locally aren’t much different than other places, but freezing temperatures can contribute to a leak. “A factor that can be somewhat unique in our area is the clay soil, which can affect conditions,” said Clements. “When conditions with the water table and freezing conditions are right, the frost can cause large heaving. This can shift the meter on the outside of a structure. Normally meters can withstand this movement, but in some rare occasions the meter and piping can separate, causing a leak.”

To lower the risk of a gas leak, call Diggers Hotline before digging, and when changing appliances, replace the flexible lines.

Ultimately, if a leak is suspected, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

“If you suspect a leak, get it checked out,” said Clements. “A majority of gas leaks can be prevented.”