Home Fire News Middletown firefighters prepare for potential LNG incidents

Middletown firefighters prepare for potential LNG incidents

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National Grid crews work at the LNG facility on Old Mill Lane in Portsmouth during the gas outage in January 2019.

Daily News staff
Newport Daily News, R.I.

MIDDLETOWN — In emergency services, personnel often prepare for situations they hope never become realities. In the case of the Middletown Fire Department, recent training for handling liquefied natural gas emergencies is one such example.

Fire Chief Robert McCall said two firefighters recently traveled to the Massachusetts Firefighting Academy in Stow to learn more about LNG for the extremely low chance there’s an incident in town.

Next month, McCall said 10 more members of the department will head north for similar hands-on learning. National Grid is picking up the tab for all the training and related expenses.

“This training was extremely important due to the fact that LNG incidents are what we call low-frequency/high-risk events,” McCall said. “Which means, it’s rare that they happen, but there is a lot of risk in dealing with them.”

LNG has been in the news recently after National Grid discussed plans last month to beef up its natural gas service on Aquidneck Island. This came after problems with the existing network arose in January 2019, forcing the shutdown of gas service to about 7,500 customers in Middletown and Newport.

National Grid rolled out four different proposals intended to provide more reliable gas service in the coldest months. Those ranged from reducing gas usage among some customers to keep up with demand for others, to building a new LNG facility likely on Navy land on the west side of the island, a new interstate pipeline or improvements to the Old Mill Lane plant in Portsmouth.

Regardless of which option moves forward, National Grid said the Old Mill Lane plant by the Middletown town line would be used for the next several winters on an as-needed basis during cold snaps. National Grid has said the Old Mill Lane operation can provide 50 percent of all the natural gas needs for the island when necessary.

With that in mind, McCall said the recent training gave everyone at Middletown Fire more insight into the facts of LNG.

“We have a better understanding of how LNG works, what are the dangers and how to appropriately fight a fire dealing with LNG,” McCall said. “We may not want to just put water on LNG. LNG does not naturally smell like rotten eggs; they add a product called mercaptan, which is what gives it a smell. So, we may have to rely on meters to detect a leak. How LNG in liquid form is not flammable, but when it converts to gas, it is.”

The chief said the training also demonstrated how different situations with LNG need different responses.

“A lot of people think that LNG is just going to blow up and cause an explosion,” McCall said. “That normally does not happen. It must be under pressure for this to happen. The tanks today have a lot of fail safes built in, such as pressure blow-offs.”

McCall said everyone on the force already has extensive training with potential hazardous materials.

“There is always some risk when dealing with flammable gas or liquids,” McCall said. “The probabilities are low, but they can happen. Therefore, we will increase our training and equipment for dealing with LNG emergencies.

“We also pre-plan the facility and know where the shutoffs are, evacuations routes and who to call from National Grid. We have a great working relationship with everyone from National Grid. In the event of an emergency the Middletown Fire Department will be ready to respond.”

McCall said local residents play an important role, too, in the slim chance there’s an emergency.

“The first thing we’d always ask if for people to stay aware,” McCall said. “They can also follow us on social media and sign up for our emergency notification system CodeRED. If there is an emergency and an evacuation, we ask that they listen to our directions.

“On a day-to-day basis, if there’s something out of the ordinary, sounds, smells, whatever it might be, call us (at 846-1031). I say all of this with the reminder again that the probability of an event happening is extremely low.”

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