Firefighters responding to a high pressure natural gas line break in the 900 block of Campbell Street on July 11 were stunned to discover a Lebanon Utility worker sitting in a trench, holding stick with his foot that he had jammed into the pipe.
“It’s very rare and dangerous for fire departments and gas companies alike to engage in plugging, capping, or even attempting to control high-pressure gas main breaks underground,” Lebanon Fire Chief Jason Lee said.
About 40 residences in the Hoosier Estates Mobile Home Park were evacuated, while crews capped the gas leak, a process that took four hours.
Lebanon Utilities representatives will meet soon with Vectren Energy reps to discuss the incident, LU Executive Director Mike Martin said.
“We are reviewing the situation, and will look to ensure that best practices are being utilized when these things happen,” Martin said.
To his knowledge, a Lebanon Utility crew has never before cut a natural gas line, Martin said. “This time, we were clearly responsible,” he said.
“We need to find out what we could have done, and when it does happen, how are we dealing with it,” Martin said.
A hole between one-half to three-quarters of an inch wide was punched in the three-inch diameter gas line, Lee said. One LU worker called 911 while another found a stick, shoved it into the gap, and kept it in place with his foot.
The “extremely dangerous” action blocked most of the gas.
To remove the utility worker safely, the stick had to be kept in place. Lee held the stick with his hand while another firefighter helped him try to insert a plastic cone designed for the task into the hole.
The cone failed, forcing firefighters to use a similar device that was not specifically designed for high-pressure breaches, Lee said.
The best way to stop a natural gas leak is for a gas company crew to dig on either side of the break to find and clamp off the affected line, Lee said.
“Never, never, never try to fix or plug a gas line if you find a leak or hit a line,” Lee said.