Washington Evening Journal
https://washington-ia.villagesoup.com/p/1670109

Fairfield Ledger   Mt. Pleasant News
Neighbors Growing Together | Aug 22, 2017

Utility backhoe breaks gas line

By Xiomara Levsen | Jul 19, 2017

 

Several buildings in downtown Washington were evacuated after a utility company struck a 2-inch natural gas line Tuesday morning behind the Washington County Communications Center.

The call about the gas leak came into the Washington County Communications Center at 10:12 a.m., according to the call log. Some of the buidlings evacuated included: the post office, the courthouse, the Wesley Center, the Masonic Temple building, United Methodist Church, the McCreedy building and The Journal office.

Looking Glass owner Nikcole Hotle was in the middle of a haircut when she was told to evacuate by a Journal staff member.

“I was doing a haircut actually on one of my husband’s cousins,” Hotle said. “I was almost done. I basically just had to finish the bang section up front. I sat everything down and went out to the corner and waited basically for an hour before they [safety officials] said it was going to be another hour.”

Hotle returned to her business quickly to grab the supplies needed to finish the haircut on the street corner. Her husband’s cousin understood what was going on because he is a volunteer firefighter in Crawfordsville.

Hotle returned to work at 12:15 p.m. after she checked with other local businesses that it was OK to return to work.

“I came back in and had someone waiting on me already that was waiting on the corner with us during that hour we were up there,” Hotle said.

Washington Fire Chief Tom Wide said there was a limited number of people who were evacuated while the gas line was being repaired.

“It was a disruption for everybody, but no one was hurt,” he said.

When the fire department arrived on scene Wide said the decision was made to evacuate the buildings due to the natural gas smell and gas levels in the area.

“It’s a lot easier to evacuate immediately and assess the situation,” Wide added. “It takes a while for the utility companies to get there and shut things off.”

Cara Sorrells, supervisor at the Washington Communications Center, said she started smelling gas almost immediately inside the building. She decided to stay on site but began working on a plan in case they had to route calls to another location.

“The main thing is we sent a dispatcher off site to the site to set up a temporary command vehicle with radios,” Sorrells said. “I didn’t want her in here when we started receiving calls.”

The command vehicle came from the Washington Police Department and was used for radios and paging for about an hour, she added.

“The 911 calls would have been routed somewhere else and the landlines would have been routed somewhere else,” Sorrells said. “I stayed here to decide what we were going to do with phones.”

Thankfully, the repairs didn’t take longer than what they did, she said.

“I have to say Alliant, the fire department, officers, ambulance — everybody was here immediately,” Sorrells said. “Kudos to them. They were on it right away and they got it under control.”

Usually, the general procedure is to set up something off site for dispatchers and the communications center.

“That’s what we were working toward in case this was going to become lengthy,” Sorrells said, “and to evacuate. We needed to figure out which direction the wind was coming from, who was going to be affected, and we needed to start evacuating.”

Sorrells sent a WENS (Wireless Emergency Notification System) message to county employees to let them know there was a gas leak.

“There’s a big concentration of people working here in this block,” Sorrells said.

Washington County auditor Dan Widmer said he was in the basement of the courthouse discussing county issues after the supervisors meeting when he received the message from Sorrells. He went upstairs to make sure everyone was evacuating the building. He also checked with employees in the McCreedy building, which houses the engineer’s and assessor’s offices to make sure they knew about the gas leak and were evacuating.

Once everyone was given the all-clear to return to work, Widmer said he realized they may want to review emergency procedure at the courthouse.

“It is a good opportunity for us to learn from a situation like yesterday,” he said.

A staff meeting will be held with staff Thursday. afternoon, Widmer said.

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