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Gas leak causes scare at Perham apt. complex

A gas leak at a Perham apartment complex put a scare into both residents and emergency crews Dec. 11, but the source of the leak was little more than a needle point hole.

Evacuated as a safety precaution to the community room on the far opposite end of the building were all the residents of Lakeland Apartments. They stayed there for nearly an hour as firefighters, police and gas company crews searched for the source.

"It was an extremely small leak, so it was difficult to pinpoint...It was leading us astray for a while," said Dave Neisen, Perham Natural Gas Company. Neisen said the leak was at a gas regulator on a stove, in one of the first floor apartments.

Fortunately, the concentration of gas was not enough to have ignited, added Neisen.

"We were finding pockets of gas concentration, but just couldn't pin down the location," said Perham Volunteer Fire Department Chief Tracy Schmidt. "We had a lot of noses checking the vicinity."

But in addition to noses, equipment was also brought in that reads gas concentrations.

One of the problems with a gas leak is that the first thing to do is open the doors to air out the building, said Schmidt. Of course, with increased air flow and ventilation, it makes it even more challenging to find the leak, he noted.

The search continued, as most of the firefighters were released from the scene. Chief Schmidt received a call later that afternoon from Merle Meece, city public works director, who confirmed that the leak was pinpointed and repaired.

"I was really relieved when the report came back that it was found," said Schmidt. Because of the difficulties with gas leaks, fire departments are often called back into action several times during the search process, he added.

As far as consumer safety, gas company spokesman Neisen had this to say:

"The main thing to remember if you smell gas is to contact your gas department immediately," said Neisen. "We have all the equipment to sniff it out. We have very sophisticated equipment that enables us to find leaks before it becomes a problem."


What to do if you suspect a gas leak

Indications of possible gas leaks include

--- Unusual odor inside or near the pipeline outdoors

--- Hissing noise, bubbles in puddles, dirt being blown into the air, or dead or discolored vegetation near an underground pipeline.

--- Fire or explosion involving pipeline facilities.

If you suspect a leak

--- EVACUATE the area immediately-travel upwind to escape any potentially dangerous accumulation of gas and do not reenter until told it is safe to do so.

--- CALL the gas supplier from a safe location- NOT the building where you smell gas.

--- DO NOT light a match; operate light switches, appliances, engines, or any other potential sources of ignition.

--- KEEP other people out of the area until help arrives.

Excavation safety

Dig-in (excavation) damage is a leading cause of gas system damage. To minimize this hazard, the most important thing you can do is call before you dig.

Gopher State One Call (GSOC) is a free statewide service that allows utilities to locate any buried facilities they own before you start digging. Just call two business days before digging and provide the requested information to the operator.

GSOC can be reached at 800-252-1166.