First responders participate in propane explosion drill



A relief valve on one of the propane tanks at Crestwood didn’t close off, and vapor started spewing into the air.

The wind carries that to a nearby flare, which ignites and flashes, and an employee is knocked out and rendered unconscious.

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As first responders arrive on scene, a firetruck and an ambulance enter a gate and go back to where they think the employee is down.

That, however, was a mistake.

Before going back there, they should have made contact with Crestwood personnel.

“They just went back there because they saw the fire. We could have put this truck and everybody on it at risk,” said Steve Mowdy, an emergency medical technician with Jackson County Emergency Medical Services and a lieutenant and training and safety officer for the Redding Township Volunteer Fire Department.

Fortunately in this case, it was a full-scale propane explosion drill and wasn’t a real incident.

The flare was set off as a distraction to throw off first responders, and it worked.

The underground cavern, which is 21 million gallons, is leased to Enterprise Products, which is next to Crestwood. Enterprise periodically flares to maintain a certain pressure on the cavern, said Crestwood facility supervisor Andy Sandlin.

“The whole idea of the flare was to give the noise and heat because generally in the situation, we would have a high-pitched squeal of that (vapor) coming out,” Mowdy said. “It would be very distracting and disorient somebody, especially if they’ve been knocked out.”

Wednesday’s drill was a benefit for the first responders because none of them had participated in that type of training. EMS and firefighters were joined by officers with the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department.

Crestwood and Enterprise are among four fuel-related companies in the area, so it’s good for first responders to know as much about them as they can.

“This basically is going to help us better serve if a real situation like this happens,” Mowdy said.

Sandlin said Crestwood employees participate in tabletop exercises once a year and do a full-scale drill every two or three years.

Wednesday was the first time local first responders have joined them for the drill.

“It’s a super unlikely scenario,” Sandlin said. “Usually when a relief valve, if a spring breaks or fails, it just doesn’t function. It hardly ever gets used full force. But for the purpose of this, we assume that we’ve got the one in a million out there.”

He said it was good for the first responders to learn what the company does and how the facility operates. It opened in 1975 as Silgas, the cavern was built between 1977 and 1979 and the name changed to Crestwood in 2013, he said.

“It’s really the simple things: How to get in and out of the facility, whether you should come in and out of the facility, do we need to evacuate, do we need to block roads, do we need to evacuate the neighborhood. You just try to get all of those bases covered,” Sandlin said. “It’s just a good way for us to develop a working relationship with these guys. Otherwise, we may never meet.”

While this was the first time first responders participated in the drill, Mowdy said it won’t be the last.

“They’ve invited us for years, but nobody has ever actually taken them up on it, so now, we’re working with them a little more and we’re going to be doing more training like this on a yearly basis,” he said. “We’re starting to try to transition to do more if something happens here.”

In the drill, Mowdy played the role of a Crestwood employee on dispatch.

At the end of the drill, he said the EMS personnel told him it was a cluster. That’s because they didn’t check with a Crestwood employee to determine where the downed man was located and they just went through the gate toward the flare.

“That’s one thing we’re learning is we need to make contact with whoever is in charge of these places out here before we do anything,” Mowdy said. “If something was to happen, we need to know what to do or at least have an idea. That’s why we train. With us training, it’s definitely going to help us out in the future.”

Redding firefighters train for house fires, cutting up wrecked cars, pulling the hose off of the firetrucks, setting up a ladder and putting on their gear. Now, they can add a full-scale propane explosion drill to their training.

“We’re changing our whole aspect. We’re changing our whole idea of how we train,” Mowdy said. “We’re doing things the right way. We’re training harder and for more things.”

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