Residents Return Home After Calif. Pipeline Blowout

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pipelineSAN BRUNO, Calif. (AP) — Patrick Yu has nightmares and headaches since a fireball from a natural gas explosion caused his ceiling to crash down next to him while he slept.

He was one of many residents who returned to the ruined hillsides of their suburban San Francisco neighborhood Sunday after Thursday’s pipeline blast and fire destroyed nearly 50 homes and damaged dozens of others.

The tragedy prompted California regulators to order the utility, Pacific Gas and Electric, to survey all its natural gas lines in the state in hopes of heading off another disaster.

Returning residents were wearing wristbands that show police they live in the area.

Yu said he crouched in the doorway after the blast, thinking he was in the middle of an earthquake. When the shaking subsided, he found that the heat had warped the door so much he had to pull with all his strength to get out of the bedroom.

The 62-year-old learned sunday that his house had been red-tagged, meaning it has extensive damage and will require closer inspection before authorities can declare it safe.

“I have lots of memories in that house,” Yu said. “Lots of stuff you can’t replace.”

A few blocks away, houses have collapsed into black and white debris on ground, with a smell like charcoal in the air. All that remain standing is a row of brick chimneys, while across the street, some homes are undamaged.

Pat and Roger Haro fared better. They and their dog, Rosie, have been living in a hotel room since Thursday after fleeing their home with the clothes they were wearing, dog food, water and an iPad.

When they returned, their home was marked with a green tag — indicating less damage than others with yellow or red tags — and their electricity was still off.

“Once I saw the house was still there then I felt a whole lot better,” Pat Haro said. “I think we’ll be a tighter community.”

Investigators were still trying to confirm just how many people died.

The remains of at least four people have been found, and authorities have said four are missing and at least 60 injured, some critically. Two people reported missing after blast were located Sunday, city spokeswoman Robyn Thaw said.

San Mateo County Coroner Robert Foucrault said they’re still trying to confirm whether some of the remains they found are human and identify victims.

At a church service at St. Robert’s Catholic Church on Sunday morning, the Rev. Vincent Ring conducted a prayer for the victims.

“We turn to God and we ask for mercy upon all our brothers who are hurting so badly, whose lives have changed so drastically and whose help is so badly need from us,” Ring said.

Meanwhile, local and federal officials are probing the cause of the explosion that blew a segment of pipe 28 feet long onto the street some 100 feet away, creating a crater 167 feet long and 26 feet wide.

A risky segment of the gas line was due to be replaced, the utility responsible said, because it ran through a heavily urbanized area and the likelihood of failure was “unacceptably high.” That 30-inch diameter pipe a few miles north was installed in 1948, and was slated to be swapped for new, smaller pipe.

PG&E submitted paperwork to regulators for ongoing gas rate proceedings that said a section of the same gas line about two and a half miles away was within “the top 100 highest risk line sections” in the utility’s service territory, the documents show.

The company also considered the portion that ruptured to be a “high consequence area” requiring more stringent inspections called integrity assessments, federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration spokeswoman Julia Valentine said.

Nationwide, only about 7 percent of gas lines have that classification, she said.

PG&E spokesman Andrew Souvall said the company had planned to replace the piece of the gas line mentioned in the documents with 24-inch pipe as a part of its broader proposal to upgrade infrastructure that the commission began considering last year.

Souvall said Sunday that no one complained to the utility’s call centers of smelling gas in the San Bruno neighborhood in the week leading up to the blast.

He said the ruptured section, which was installed in 1956, was last checked for leaks in March. The company said later Sunday no leaks were found.

The segment farther north was checked for leaks on Friday and none were found, Souvall added.

“We take action on a daily basis to repair our equipment as needed,” he said. “PG&E takes a proactive approach toward the maintenance of our gas lines and we’re constantly monitoring our system.”

In ordering the company to conduct the leak survey on its natural gas lines, the state’s Public Utilities Commission said Sunday that PG&E must give priority to higher pressure pipelines, as well as to lines in areas of high population density.

The order comes after Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado, the state’s acting governor, asked the commission to order the utility company to conduct an integrity assessment of its natural gas pipeline system.

The commission also plans to appoint an independent expert panel to help with their investigation.

Crews on Sunday packed into a crate the 28-foot section of ruptured natural gas pipeline blown out of the ground and hurled 100 feet in the explosion, National Transportation Safety Board vice chairman Christopher Hart said.

Investigators were to ship the pipeline to the NTSB’s metallurgy lab in Washington, D.C., for intensive examination, he said.

Also being shipped were two 10-foot sections of pipe removed from the crater Sunday from either side of where the ruptured section had been.

Investigators believed they had collected all the sections needed to reconstruct the metal pipeline but asked that anyone who found metal fragments in the blast area contact the NTSB. The agency also wants to know of any instances of dead vegetation prior to the explosion, which could indicate a gas leak.

___

Contributing to this report were Associated Press video journalist Haven Daley and writers Lisa Leff and Marcus Wohlsen in San Bruno and John S. Marshall and Sudhin Thanawala in San Francisco. Burke reported from Fresno, Calif.

© Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Nursing Home Fire Safety Precautions

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What is wrong with this picture? It is 6 a.m. and the nursing facility’s nurse supervisor receives a telephone call from a housekeeper who tells her that one of the dryers in the laundry room is on fire. The nurse runs downstairs, grabs an extinguisher and attempts to put out the fire herself.

What’s wrong? She should have called the fire department first.

In my past few years as a Fire Chief I have been involved in over two hundred nursing home incidents. I have seen numerous incidents in which lack of training for personnel resulted in problems or errors during an emergency situation and contributed to confusion during an already tense time. For example:

– Doors to a first-floor room on fire were left open, allowing smoke to travel up to the 2nd and 3rd floors.

– Personnel continued to use elevators during the fire.

– Doors to the electrical, gas, and sprinkler rooms were not marked. Fire personnel were unable to either find the locatiion or gain access to these rooms to shut off the utilities. This caused unnecessary damage to the building.

– Sprinkler valves were not tagged to indicae which zones they covered in the building. Waterflowed from the 3rd floor to the basement.

– Keys were not available to open certain rooms.

– Soiled laundry was piled too high and was too close to the dryers.

In addition, at various times when the Fire Department arrived, no one could give the location of the fire incident. When the employee says the alarm is going off, that is not enough information. Is there smoke showing or is there an actual fire? Where is its exact location?

In short, it has become very clear over the years that personnel in many healthcare facilities do not have adequate in-service training when an emergency occurs. What is more, most fire alarm incidents occur during the off hours: 3:00 to 11:00 p.m. and 11:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m. on weekdays, and during all weekend shifts. Adding to the problem is the frequent turnover of help in all personnel areas, and some personnel are not fluent in English.

Both of these factors could be effectively dealt with if more training sessions were provided. These sessions should be implemented on all shifts with an emphasis on making sure that the instructions and procedures are understood by all employees. Quarterly training sessions, at least, are recommended, and should cover all personnel, especially those who work during the afternoon, night, and weekend shifts.

What The Staff Should Know

Pointers for staffers who discover a fire:

1. Remove the patient from the room.

2. Go to the nearest fire pull station and pull the alarm.

3. Pick up the nearest in-house phone and tell your supervisor of exact conditions.

4. Close doors, windows, vents; shut off fans.

5. Use extinguisher briefly, but only if you know how to use it.

Pointers for on-duty supervisors:

1. Immediately call the fire department and tell them you have fire or smoke in the building and tell them the exact location of the problem.

2. Call the maintenance man and necessary supervisory personnel.

3. Ensure that gas for life-support systems is secured.

4. Call the alarm company and sprinkler company to reset the systems.

5. Call utilities to ensure that gas/electricity are safe to use.

6. If you have a power failure, check emergency generator–have the telephone number of emergency generator company on the emergency call list.

7. Check an up-to-date patient list.

8. Make sure that the pull station, the telephone and the multipurpose extinguisher, along with a multilingual instruction sheet, are all placed together in the same location. Also, patients should have name tags and medication requirements pinned on the back of their clothing.

 

Excerpt from:

Cassidy, Donald J. “Involving the staff in fire safety.” Nursing Homes and Senior Citizen Care Sept.-Oct. 1991: 15+

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Protect Data In Case Of A Fire

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Anyone that owns a computer, whether a company or a private individual, should be aware of the big need for data backup and protection.  You never know when a fire will strike, and it’s usually when you least expect it.  It’s highly necessary to have backups in place.  There are several different methods of backing up data, and they have different pros and cons.

To keep data safe, businesses are constantly looking for secure storage options. Larger businesses can afford to retain an IT staff to work full time on security issues. Smaller businesses, however, cannot afford that luxury. They must find ways to store company files related to operations. Tax records, research and development plans, as well as confidential client information are all routinely stored. However, data can be lost or stolen. The question is, what data storage method is safest for small business owners?

Businesses store a great deal of data on their office computers. That data is generally safe if proper precautions are taken. However, what happens when a hard drive containing sensitive information crashes? If backups have been created, the business may not suffer any serious loss. On the other hand, if backups are not continually updated, data can be lost. Small business owners, to protect themselves and their clients, must take steps to safely backup data, but what type of backup system is best?

External hard drives are often used to create backup files. As a rule, they provide a safe way to duplicate data so that, if a computer drive should fail, no data is lost. Backup drives with two to three terabytes are easily obtained, and provide enough storage for most small businesses. However, external hard drives, like any other computer components, can be stolen or damaged. For that reason, industry experts generally recommend sensitive data be backed up to off-site storage sites.

Cloud Storage Best For Fire Protection

Cloud storage offers off-site protection of data in the event of a catastrophe such as a fire.   Cloud storage has, in recent years, become a safe option for businesses needing to back up data. In addition, using cloud-based storage allows users with proper credentials to access data from anywhere. That ability is valuable to companies with staff members who often travel, as they can retrieve or update information from anywhere with an Internet connection.  We Hate Malware has a great rundown of basic cloud storage services.

Some business owners express concerns over the security of cloud-based storage, but with today’s encryption systems, security is not a significant issue as long as all protocols are followed. Business owners are quickly discovering that cloud-based storage options meet their needs, and do so at a much lower cost than building and maintaining an on-site computer system sufficient to run the business and store large amounts of data.

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Forest Fires Aren’t Always What They Seem

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With an increased fire danger in California, it’s important to take a moment to refresh our knowledge of forest fires and their behavior.  A book by Stephen Pyne, a firefighter that worked for years at the Grand Canyon, describes forest fire’s more intricate workings:

“Forest fires are commonly envisioned as acres of blazing trees lighting up the night and filling the air with smoke, ash, and burning debris. The men who fight the fires risk their lives and their safety in this battle with the elements – archetypal figures in a battle with men clearly on the side of good, battling the age-old destroyer, fire.

Or are they? Through an accumulation of anecdotes, Stephen Pyne’s book shows that the situation is far more complex. He describes a season of fire fighting at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, showing the men, equipment, place, bureaucracy, humor, and fires. Pyne has 15 summers, or seasons, of experience at the North Rim to draw on, making him the most veteran of veterans in this young man’s job. Now a professor at Arizona State University’s West Campus, he specializes in environmental history. The season he describes is a composite of many. Written for the layperson, the book comes to life with the fires – the slow and often confusing spring, the exciting summer fires, and finally the winding down of fall, when rookies graduate to veteran status and the reader feels vicariously knowledgeable.

The North Rim is administered by the Park Service, but it is surrounded by areas run by the Forest Service. The two government agencies have different goals. According to Pyne, more and more the Park Service’s purpose at the Grand Canyon is to please tourists; the Forest Service’s purpose is to take care of the forest, which includes a fire management policy. Being in the park’s fire crew is therefore to be out of line with park purpose, because you do not serve the tourists. In fact, Pyne writes, “Park Service policy and enlightened public opinion consider fire control … not only unnecessary but immoral; they argue that fire suppression is an alien culture intruding into an area it cannot understand and arresting processes it cannot hope to defeat; that fire fighting is not a gutsy job but a tragically misguided commitment” (p. 168). And yet the Park Service is compelled to suppress every ignition.

This confusion makes fire fighting difficult. Fire roads through the back-country are allowed to be only minimally repaired, if at all; trails are abandoned; equipment is broken, worthless, or unavailable. The status of the fire crew is reduced. In the past, it was a way to become a ranger; now it is a dead-end, seasonal job, in which one is bossed by rangers with little fire experience. The fire crew veterans name themselves the “Long-shots,” a self-deprecating play on “Hotshot.” They know why they are there – to fight fires. And despite the Park Service’s confusion, fire fighters are there because the fires are there.

And yet the fires are not what the public might expect. There are few infernos here, mostly just small fires creating a lot of backbreaking work. Lightening ignites a tree, the smoke is spotted by a plane, the fire crew is alerted. Their first problem is to find the fire. When told of this priority at fire school, a rookie thinks they mean the trick is to find the fire before it gets big. No, explain the veterans, the trick is to find the fire before it goes out. Pyne gives example upon example of the fire crew faithfully following directions and ending up hopelessly lost, even out of radio range.”

Russell, Rachel. “Fire on the Rim: A Firefighter’s Season at the Grand Canyon.” BioScience 39.10 (1989): 733+.

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