10-alarm response to massive, multiple gas explosions

Sep 14, 2018 by

Posted on: Friday, September 14, 2018

By Maureen Doherty
Editor
North Reading Transcript

NORTH READING — At this point, everyone is aware of the magnitude of the natural gas explosions resulting in about 70 structural fires that took place in Andover, North Andover and Lawrence yesterday afternoon and evening. Sadly, Boston news media reported last night at least one loss of life. An 18-year-old young man died several hours after the brick chimney of a house that exploded landed on top of his SUV which was parked in the driveway of the home at that moment of impact.

The cause of the gas explosions has been attributed to “over pressurized gas lines” maintained by Columbia Gas Co. which is in the process of upgrading 700 miles of gas lines in that region of the state.

The Transcript contacted local officials regarding the town’s response to the ever-changing situation and has the following information to offer:

TOWN OBTAINS ITS NATURAL GAS FROM SEPARATE DISTRIBUTION SYSTEM

According to Town Administrator Michael Gilleberto local officials contacted National Grid, the town’s natural gas provider, and has been informed that: “North Reading is served by a separate distribution system (than Columbia Gas) and there is no indication of a threat to North Reading.” A reverse 9-1-1 call with this information was sent out last night and also shared on the town’s website to assure town residents.

Gilleberto also told the Transcript on Thursday night: “We are monitoring the situation and have extended offers of assistance to Andover and North Andover. Andover has declined for the moment and we are awaiting a response from North Andover.”

TOWN WATER SUPPLY

Given the fact that approximately two-thirds of the town’s water is supplied by the town of Andover, and that water is treated at Andover’s treatment plant prior to being distributed to North Reading, the Transcript inquired with Utilities Superintendent Mark E. Clark of the North Reading Department of Public Works about the status of Andover’s water treatment plant.

Clark told the Transcript that the Andover plant is “powered by electricity.” The back-up generators, he believes, are powered by natural gas. Initially it was thought that there could be some “impact in North Reading related to discolored water” due to the water needed to fight the fires. Subsequently, however, at 8 p.m. Thursday, Clark informed the Transcript that he had spoken to a contact in Andover who had indicated to him that “they are not seeing extremely high water demands and he believes most of the fire-related flows are in Lawrence at this time.”

Additionally, Clark said, “Our tanks are full, and the Main Street connection with Andover is closed. At this point, I do not anticipate any significant issues relating to North Reading water quality/quantity.”

There are two points of entry for the water distribution between North Reading and Andover — Main Street and Central Street. One, the other or both may be used and it is emergencies such as this that prove the value and necessity of having this redundancy available in a public utility such as water.

Clark said the Water Department will continued to monitor the situation as well as the water levels in the town’s three water storage tanks (Tower Hill, Swan Pond and Moose Hill on North Street).

MUTUAL AID

Mutual aid was also immediately provided by North Reading to our neighbors to the north. North Reading Firefighters Local 1857 posted the following information to its Facebook page during the height of the crisis: “North Reading Firefighters are operating Engine 1, Engine 4 and Ladder 1 in Lawrence, North Andover and Andover where a gas line was reportedly over pressurized resulting in multiple building fires. We have members covering the station here in North Reading also.

“So far there have been NO reported incidents in North Reading. If you suspect there is a problem of any kind in North Reading as always call 911 or 978-664-3111.”

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And North Reading Fire’s involvement aiding in the aftermath of these natural gas explosions did not hinder crews from tending to emergencies within our own borders as the following Facebook post attests following a construction accident on Haverhill Street around 6 p.m. on Thursday, September 13:

“A hectic evening! While our Ladder 1 as well Engines 1 and 4 were in Andover and Lawrence assisting with the gas explosions and fires, the remaining members covering North Reading had their own challenge in town.

“Shortly after 6 p.m. North Reading Engine 3 and Rescue 1 responded to an address on Haverhill Street for a man trapped in a Bobcat construction vehicle.

“After assessing the severity of injuries and the involvement of entrapment, a Wilmington engine was dispatched to the scene with a second set of Jaws, MedFlight was requested, and a Reading engine was requested to assist at the Landing Zone.

“After a lengthy extrication, the patient was transported by NRFD Paramedics via our ambulance as the ETA on the helicopter was extended.

“Teamwork on scene between NRFD and mutual aid firefighters, NRPD and NR DPW resulted in a successful outcome in a challenging scenario.”

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It was also heartwarming to see the number of people in the North Reading community willing to open their homes to anyone displaced by the gas explosions who needed to evacuate, as a number of residents extended such invitations via social media.

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SOME ANDOVER RESIDENTS ALLOWED TO RETURN HOME

An estimated 8,000 residents in the three communities were displaced.

As of 12:30 a.m. Friday, Andover officials announced that those residents who South of the intersection of Rte. 28 and Salem St. (toward North Reading) and those West of the intersection of Beacon St. and Reservation Road (toward Tewksbury) were allowed to return home; however, they were told to turn off their gas connections manually and LEAVE IT OFF UNTIL A GAS TECHNICIAN can come to their homes and restore service properly.

• Residents North of Rte. 28 at Salem Street (toward Lawrence the Merrimack River) must remain out of their homes. “A total of 20 teams, each consisting of a police officer, firefighter, and natural gas technician will be going house-to-house to 1,800 affected natural gas customers in their area to verify that gas meters are shut off, or to shut them off. The gas service will not be restored until the gas company determines it is safe to do so.”

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The Transcript will continue to monitor the situation and provide updates when possible.

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