Firefighters Empty, Remove Leaking 100-Gallon Propane Tank From Garage
Two Newtown fire companies and additional outside resources responded to assist a local homeowner last Thursday afternoon, after a 100-gallon propane tank began leaking inside a garage in northern Newtown.
Hook & Ladder and Hawleyville firefighters were dispatched to 3 Dinglebrook Lane just after 4:30 pm, Thursday, July 15, after a caller told emergency dispatchers he was smelling gas in the garage.
It took well more than three hours to safely clear the two tanks in the garage of propane, and then have the tanks removed from the property. One firefighter was checked for heat-related exhaustion. There were no other injuries reported.
Dinglebrook Lane intersects with Hanover Road in Newtown and continues to the Brookfield town line.
According to the assessor’s database, the home on the property is a 2,844-square-foot Colonial-style dwelling. The property also includes a 112-square-foot shed and a 240-square-foot detached garage. It was inside the garage that firefighters found two 100-gallon propane tanks last week, one of which had begun to leak.
Approximately 15 firefighters responded to the call, according to Hook & Ladder Third Assistant Chief Jason Shuttleworth, who served as incident command. Modern tanks, he explained, have a failsafe that allows them to self-expel gas if they are overfilled.
“There are safety features designed to allow the tank to blow off while maintaining pressure,” he said. But that was not the case on this call.
The tanks were about 18 years old, Shuttleworth said, and had been in the garage that long. The base of the one that was leaking had rotted away, he said, and had started to fail.
“That’s where the propane was leaking from,” he said. “Because the tank was damaged, we could not move it.”
Shuttleworth said he was informed by the homeowner that they were unaware there was anything in the tanks before the leak started.
“He said the tanks were there when they purchased the house, and just thought they were empty,” Shuttleworth said this week. “We found out the hard way they weren’t.”
Both tanks were about half full.
Shuttleworth first asked for dispatch to contact Fairfield County and Danbury hazmat teams, hoping to secure flare kits. Those tools allow propane to be safely burned off, thereby emptying tanks. Once a tank is empty, he said, it can then be moved and properly disposed of.
“Unfortunately for us, Fairfield was unable to respond and Danbury’s flare kit did not have a long enough hose,” the assistant chief said. It would have taken 10 to 12 hours to empty the propane from the leaking tank with that tool, he explained.
Firefighters also contacted Mitchell Fuel, “who the homeowner has a contract with, and they sent a tech. They have a guy who is basically a tank expert,” Shuttleworth said.
That technician arrived with three large, empty tanks that were under a vacuum. The leaking tank was hooked to one of the tanks from Mitchell, which pulled propane from the leaking tank.
When the vacuum was exhausted, the first tank was unhooked and a second vacuum tank was connected to the damaged, leaking tank. The process was repeated until the damaged tank was emptied.
As the propane exited the damaged tank, Shuttleworth said, an ice chunk began forming on the bottom of the canister.
“As propane comes out, it gets cold, and basically what happened was once it started leaking, it hit the ambient air,” which last Thursday was very hot and humid, he said.
“It started to freeze,” he added. “We were trying to keep that chunk intact, because that was slowing the leak. It was coming out at a manageable amount. We just wanted to keep the gas from accumulating inside the garage, and the tank from failing any more.”
Meanwhile, additional firefighters metered the surrounding area, making sure it was safe.
“The home was evacuated prior to us getting there,” Shuttleworth said. “We continued air monitoring throughout the incident to make sure any vapors that were released stayed where we wanted them to be. It never really left the garage, and we had a fan in there to keep it dispersed.”
Thermal imaging cameras were also utilized during the process.
“We can tell how full a tank is because temperature changes show us how much product is in the tank,” Shuttleworth said.
One firefighter was checked by Newtown Volunteer Ambulance Corps for heat-related exhaustion. Ambulance personnel remained on scene for the duration of the call.
“There was a lot going on, and it was hot and humid,” said Shuttleworth, who put out a call for additional assistance shortly after he arrived on scene. “To have people in gear that long, I wanted to make sure we had enough people to operate safely. I wanted to make sure people were able to open up their gear and cool down after they worked, and that there would be replacements available for them.”
Brookfield Fire sent a tanker to the scene, as did Hawleyville. Shuttleworth asked for those, he said, in the event water would be needed to suppress the damaged tank with a vapor spray.
“Even with the short distance between the house and the boat launch,” he said, “it would take manpower to move water if we needed to set up a tanker shuttle.”
In the end, both tanks were removed from the property by Mitchell Oil, and firefighters finally cleared from the scene at 7:54 pm.
Associate Editor Shannon Hicks can be reached at email@example.com.