A car jumped a curb at Signature Health Care in Cleveland, Tn., on Friday afternoon, then crashed through a five-foot retaining wall and struck a gas meter. This in turn ruptured the natural gas line below ground causing a serious natural gas leak.
In the 3:30 p.m. incident, Bradley County Emergency Medical Service had an ambulance on the scene that had just dropped off a patient to the nursing facility. The crew heard the collision and ran outside to help.
When the EMTs reached the vehicle natural gas was spewing from the ground and the smell of the gas was overwhelming. They called their dispatcher immediately to respond the Cleveland Fire Department and more ambulances.
They were initially unable to get the occupants out of the car due to the debris and damage to the vehicle. When help arrived a rapid extrication was performed to free the 65-year-old male passenger who had inhaled a large amount of the natural gas. He was transported by EMS to Sky Ridge Medical Center in stable condition. The female driver was not injured.
Multiple agencies responded to the scene. The gas leak posed a larger problem in that the safety of the nursing home residents was now compromised. Bradley County EMS had multiple ambulances stage close by. EMS officials met with Signature Health Care staff to coordinate a possible evacuation.
Perry Rogers, the assistant chief for EMS, arrived on the scene to assist in coordination with other facilities that could receive residents for temporary placement. Troy Spence from the Emergency Management Agency was notified. He coordinated with the Cleveland City Schools and had two school buses staged. Some residents would be moved to Cleveland Middle School. He also had members from the Bradley County Fire and Rescue standing by to assist in the evacuation.
Stan Clark of Bradley County EMS said, “The smell of natural gas was pretty strong inside the building. The Cleveland Fire Department was using their monitoring equipment to check the air quality. The trigger point for evacuation would have been if the gas level reached 10 parts per million. The highest it got was 3 parts per million.”
He said the Chattanooga Gas Company worked diligently and was able to successfully cut off the gas by locating the street cut-off valve.
He stated, “The Chattanooga Gas Company had a quick response and brought in some heavy equipment to dig and locate the shut-off valve. They did a great job. If not for their quick response and getting the gas shut off, we would have been in a full blown evacuation.”
The gas was successfully shut off at 5:04 p.m. The Cleveland Fire Department ventilated the building to remove the lingering fumes and odor. Once given the all clear all emergency units were advised they could stand down.
Mr. Clark said, “We have several nursing type facilities in Cleveland. Today we saw how quick an event could occur to require a full-scale evacuation. This was one of the closest times we have ever come to having to fully evacuate a facility of this type. All of the pre-planning, annual drills and continued training paid off today.”