Boone County firefighters train for natural gas emergencies

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COLUMBIA - This month the Boone County Fire Protection District is partnering up with Ameren Missouri to coordinate response to natural gas emergencies. Ameren Missouri trained the Boone County Fire Protection District Wednesday on natural gas safety.

Dennis Bennett, the Supervisor of Damage Prevention and Public Awareness for Ameren Missouri, said the training helps develop relationships and to work together with fire departments to provide better safety for the community.

"We're wanting to build a relationship, a stronger relationship, between our company and the fire departments that serve our territories so that if there is an incident that happens, we will be acquainted with each other and know what each other is going to do," Bennett said.

This means each department can respond to a natural gas issue without wasting time discussing what each group is planning to do. In an emergency the fire department will set up a safe zone to keep the public back away from the danger while Ameren works on the problem.

Boone County Fire Protection District Battalion Chief Gale Blomenkamp said the training is really about neighbors helping neighbors. He said his badge he wears says "helping hands", and that applies to helping everyone in the community in anyway they can.

"When you see those people come out there you will have an idea of what their responsibilities are and they know what our responsibilities are. Through that cooperation you can then build better relationships. Being able to build that relationship with the local provider of that service goes a long ways," Blomenkamp said.

Both organizations want to inform the public better about natural gas.

"As a general population we should understand what natural gas is and some of the dangers that come with it but also understand how safe it is," Blomenkamp said.

"We need to get everybody aware of natural gas safety, what to do in an emergency, and just to refresh everyone's knowledge," Bennett said.

Bennett said the biggest problem he notices is not enough people know or do call Ameren when they suspect there might be a natural gas problem.

"People get into a habit of not calling. The biggest thing is if you do happen to smell natural gas we really need you to call us that is the first step. It doesn't cost anyone anything even if we come out and don't find anything," Bennett said.

Bennett said some people might think they smell natural gas, but it isn't strong enough so they decide not to call or expect a neighbor to call. He said that situation happened in New York this year where eight people lost their lives because neighbors did not report the gas smell.

Since January 1 of this year the Boone County Fire Protection District has responded to just three emergency natural gas calls. Ten calls were made but ended up being non-emergency. Blomenkamp said the low number is pretty normal.

There are 81 fire departments in the service for Ameren Missouri, and it tries to reach out to all the departments throughout the year.

"We really just want to work to protect the public and our working together with the Fire Department we can come to a good conclusion about an incident that might happen," said Bennett.

Ameren Missouri is holding several Fire District training sessions throughout October so all members get a chance to attend. The sessions will be every Monday and Wednesday through the rest of October.

Blomenkamp said the fire department continues to have new people join the organization, so it is important to expose them to the training periodically.

"First and foremost are job is to protect the public," Blomenkamp said.

The four basic steps emergency responders should take to contain a potential hazard will be stressed at training. The steps include work together, call Ameren Missouri for any event with natural gas, protect the public, and assess a situation to figure out what needs to be done.