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DO YOU KNOW WHAT TO DO IF YOU SMELL NATURAL GAS?

By Chris Williams on November 6, 2018.

It seems there have been a number of reports in the news lately of houses exploding, apparently as a result of natural gas leaking into the residence. One of the things we cover in training sessions for our technicians is what to do if they notice the smell of natural gas or propane while working in a house or apartment. It occurred to me that not many people really know what you should and should not do when there’s a suspected gas leak.

HOW DO YOU KNOW IF IT’S A GAS LEAK?

Natural gas has no odor of its own so gas and propane companies add an odorous detecting chemical called mercaptan. Some say it smells like rotten eggs, others say a skunk, but most people recognize the foul smell indicating natural gas or propane. If you have an older gas stove or water heater that starts with a pilot light flame, you probably know that if a pilot light goes out, you will smell some leaking gas. This is usually easily corrected by carefully relighting the pilot. In an apartment, notify the property manager. Most newer gas appliances have electronic ignition and automatic shutoff valves.

You can also get a gas smell if an older metal connector hose breaks or leaks, for example when a stove is pulled away from a wall. That can be more serious. In very serious leak situations, there may be a flaw or break in the supply line where natural gas enters a building.

If you detect a very strong mercaptan smell or if you hear a hissing or blowing noise, vacate immediately. Don’t waste time. Do not phone for help first and do not spend time trying to open windows or find the source of the leak. Warn others and leave doors open as you go out quickly.

WHATEVER YOU DO, DON’T CREATE A SPARK!

While many people know that they should get away from a gas leak, not many know the importance of not doing anything as they go that could create a spark and trigger a gas explosion. Do not turn off electrical appliances or even light switches because that could create an ignition spark. Likewise, you should not use anything electrical or battery-operated, including your cell phone or a flashlight. Don’t use a landline phone either. Don’t even start your vehicle if it is parked next to the building. And definitely don’t smoke or light matches.

How are you going to call for help then? As soon as you and others are outside of the building and well away, then you phone for help. Call 911 for emergency assistance first. Let 911 contact the gas company, don’t spend time trying to find the company’s number. Warn others to stay away and await instructions from responders and the gas company.

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