We sure hope that the permitting process for the propane storage facility near the airport is not so far along that it can’t be reconsidered.
Propane is dangerous stuff. Somewhere between 1995 and 1998 or so a propane truck coming off the Rim on 260 made a left turn at the intersection of 260 and 87 and flipped on its side along the curb where Del Taco and Walgreens are now. Every sheriff’s deputy and reserve, police personnel and firefighter and their volunteers mobilized to clear State Route 87 north and south of traffic, people and business. If either end of that truck ruptured, the center of town on the Beeline would have been wiped off the map. We waited 13 hours for a special pumper rig to come from the Valley to offload the truck’s contents.
Chuck Jacobs, the Payson fire chief then, was the incident commander and realized only too well the seriousness of the situation. About 10 years earlier the town of Kingman had lost almost its entire fire department personnel fighting a propane incident in its rail yard when the whole full-time force rushed to fight the explosion and resulting fire.
Propane, unlike most other gases, does not rise and dissipate, it sinks, but like other gases, the slightest spark can start an explosion and fire that firefighters are almost powerless to stop.
It is not good to have a facility like that on one of the highest points of land in town.
Chuck was our across the street neighbor and one evening as we three sat visiting on our front porch, he told us about a call the department had recently had in Alpine Heights. A man was building a house and was working down in his newly dug basement when he took a short break for a smoke. Meanwhile at his neighbor’s house there was leak in a propane tank. The gas came floating down into the basement and the lighting of that cigarette caused an explosion and fire that killed the man. He was still alive, but in shock, could feel no pain, but had burned almost all his skin. He was for all practical purposes dead. Chuck sat there and reassured the man that help was on the way while they waited for medical transport. But the man probably never made it to the burn center in the Valley.
During the days before we had a fire marshal, Chuck was the authority who insisted that businesses install sprinkler systems, and he was the hard-nosed inspector who refused to OK building plans for buildings that exceeded the height his department could defend. Many builders and businesses did not like him and his dictatorial ways because he insisted on safety measures that meant more expense and time delay. Now we have a ladder truck and higher buildings can be built.
But now we have no fire marshal to watch out for our safety and the people we have to depend on to do the inspections are the very people whose livelihood depends on the buildings being built.
Mr. Brotz, the Griffin Propane manager, was surprised that Payson was interested in having them build in town and many of us who remember these things from the past 35 years are too. Mr. Brotz knows why propane storage tanks should be located in Rye where any accidents and leaks would seek the low lying Rye Creek bed and flow toward the Tonto and Roosevelt Lake as it dissipates.
The Griffin people and Mr. Wilbanks, a planning technician with Payson, points out that the facility would be far from the runway of the airport and that the height of the 30,000-gallon tank might make it susceptible to lightning strikes, but Mr. Brotz assures us it “would be grounded and he had never had any issues with other tanks in the past.”
It is not only the lateral distance from other buildings that should concern us, but the vertical distance as well.
In recent memory it was firefighters who died but consider where a leak of propane would go if it sought a lower level. Alpine Village, Payson West, the settlement south toward the country club on the west of Vista Drive, and Payson Ranchos are all lower lands that could be threatened.
We truly wish we had a fire marshal or a hard-nosed fire chief participating in the evaluation, but currently we have neither.
Glenn and Lucy Groenke