Utility Response Time Impacted By Available Crew

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If a car happened to plow into the side of your house in the middle of the night, taking out the electrical and gas lines, sending gas and flames into the air, how long would it take utilities crews to arrive? A few minutes, you hope.

At the Feb. 27 trailer fire where the above scenario occurred, it took gas crews 17 minutes to arrive on scene and the power company more than an hour. While firefighters waited for utilities crews, they were forced to clamp the gas line with the Jaws of Life all while being electrocuted by the power line, to stop the blaze.

We asked SemStream Arizona Propane and Arizona Public Service what their emergency procedures were when a disaster like this occurs.

SemStream President Doug Mann said they have a local person on-call 24 hours a day. When an emergency happens, authorities are instructed to call the company’s emergency line, which is manned 24 hours a day by staff in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Once Salt Lake receives the call, they send out a call to the person on duty, who responds as quickly as possible.

At the recent house fire, Mann said SemStream received a call from the Hellsgate Fire Department around 2:10 a.m., 10 minutes after firefighters had arrived on scene, and by 2:30 a.m., a crew had arrived and was clamping the line.

“That person assesses the situation, and if they need additional support, they call,” Mann said.

On the electrical side, APS has a similar procedure in place. Authorities call the 24-hour dispatch line in Phoenix for an emergency and they call whoever is on-call that night.

“It is not like the police or fire who have people standing by,” said APS Section Leader of construction and maintenance Todd Thompson. “It would be like anyone being called at 2 a.m. It would be kind of crazy to have someone on standby overnight when most of the time things are fine.”

When dispatch calls a first responder, there is a good chance that person may be gone, especially if it is a weekend, so it may take several calls to reach someone, Thompson said.

“This is the standard procedure statewide,” he said.

Thompson said he did not know when APS received the call from Hellsgate, but Hellsgate reported that a crew arrived around 3:15 a.m., an hour and 15 minutes after the fire started.

After a crew arrived, it took several more minutes for APS to shut off power because the transformer that fed the trailer was locked up in the Pro-Build yard and cinderblocks were stacked up in front of the panel.

With the transformer locked up, the crew member went to the pole and opened the fuse, which shut power off to eight homes in the area. With the power safely turned off, the crew member moved the cinderblocks and was able to turn power back on to the other homes.

“That happens all the time, people plant trees in front of transformers,” Thompson said.

“There is supposed to be 10 feet of access in front of them.”

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