Gas leak causes

Amy Olson

On Aug. 21, University employee Joyce Durand noticed an odor inside the St. Paul campus bookstore that smelled like natural gas.
Durand and other employees called University police and Facilities Management at 2 p.m. But students, staff and visitors weren’t evacuated from the St. Paul Student Center until 2:35 p.m. when Jim Bossert, a Facilities Management shift supervisor, pulled the fire alarm.
Bossert said road repair crews tearing up the pavement with a backhoe on Buford Avenue hit a two-inch, high-pressure natural gas line, just outside the student union. When he was notified about the leak, Bossert said he went to the Student Center to check if gas entered the building and pulled the alarm when he smelled the gas.
Durand said she and other workers sat on the sidewalk outside until emergency teams from the Falcon Heights fire department and Minnegasco arrived around 3 p.m. to repair a three-quarter-inch gash in the pipe.
Bossert said the center’s air intake ducts were blowing natural gas from outside the union into the building. Workers shut off the fans in the ducts.
The University’s emergency management office has developed plans for severe weather, fire and medical emergencies, but not a plan specifically for gas leaks, said Mark Cox, interim vice president for the Department of Health, Safety and Transportation. Cox added the University has plans to respond to emergencies that occur.
Wally Caryl, director of the University’s emergency management office, said there are brief emergency action plans for each building on campus. Most are located in the largest department or office in the building.
Caryl said it is important to evacuate buildings in the event of gas leaks and notify University police by calling 911.
Bossert said there was less risk of fire or explosion since the leak occurred outdoors. According to Minnegasco’s World Wide Web site, natural gas is lighter than air and tends to rise and dissipate quickly. It is also non-toxic.
“We’re lucky to have the fire station so close,” Bossert said. “They’re located just on the other side of the fairgrounds.”
Bossert said University Police and Falcon Heights fire crews can usually respond to emergencies within five minutes, but there is no guaranteed response time.
“No emergency response team can guarantee they’ll arrive within a given time,” Bossert said. “We’re fortunate to have them a half-mile away.”