Multi-agency departments hold drills for disaster pipeline fires

PG&E held a multi-scenario and multi-agency emergency natural gas disaster training drill Thursday at Merritt College in Oakland.  

It's the 31st drill in a year, with fire departments statewide, all sponsored by PG&E to make sure that fire departments can tackle disasters such as the San Bruno Pipeline Explosion.

A multitude of East Bay first responders simulated a coordinated, police, fire, and EMT emergency response to a major natural gas pipeline rupture. Most ruptures are caused by contractors or homeowners.

But, some become infernos. 

"It gives our crews the ability to train on real-life scenarios that they might not see that often; also allows us to train jointly with fire departments," said Joseph Foreline, PG&E Gas Operations senior vice president.

RELATED: 5 years after pipeline explosion, San Bruno recovering, still pushing for answers

It's similar to a military battle using allied and coalition forces.

"It makes it much easier for us to train and collaborate. So, when we do have that real-world emergency, the process is rather seamless in regard to communication and working together for a common end goal," said Battalion Chief Delond Simmon of the Oakland Fire Department.

This major natural gas pipeline break and fire led to the destruction of a roadbed construction soil compacting machine that punctured a 4-inch pipe, which threatened to incinerate nearly houses in Concord a month ago. 

"Oh. It was terrible. The whole house shook. One big explosion and then I looked up over to the right and I saw 20, 25-foot flames," said Jan Cabral who witnessed the November fire.

A gas pipeline break that sparked a huge fireball in San Francisco in 2019, was blamed on unsafe work by a contractor. In 2015, an excavation contractor's front-end loader operator hit a gas line at a site off Highway 99 in Fresno, killing one person on the crew.

So far this year, more than 1,400 times, contractors or homeowners dug into and damaged PG&E utility lines; about 4 times a day. Each one represents a real threat to life, health, and property.

SEE ALSO: PG&E crews inspecting gas lines in San Bruno brings up bad memories

There is a free 811 service that marks the property with colored lines that tell what kind of line or pipe is directly under. 

Most often, contractors or homeowners did not call for or heed them. Those responsible for dig-in repairs average having to pay $3,500 for them.

But, that average number can easily climb into far higher numbers depending on the damage caused.

"We partner with local fire departments to run real-life scenarios, and we're seeing how our people can respond to emergencies," said Foreline. 

How they respond is a matter of life or death.