December 19, 2014

Elyria
Fog
29°F
test

Fire chief: Gas company response slowed accident rescue

CARLISLE TWP. — The victims of Saturday’s crash on Middle Avenue were stranded in the crushed car by leaking gas lines for about two hours before they were rescued, according to Carlisle Township Fire Chief Kevin Dembiec.

Dembiec said it took Columbia Gas an additional one or two hours after the rescue to shut off the gas, which was leaking from a NiSource building that housed Columbia gas lines.

“The problem was this was a regulation station, so they couldn’t just shut it down,” Dembiec said, adding that a shutdown would affect residents in several surrounding cities.

The leak occurred after the car containing four teenagers crashed into the building. The Chrysler PT Cruiser they were in was reported stolen in Elyria earlier that morning, and the Highway Patrol reported that the vehicle lost control over railroad tracks before driving off the road.

Three of the teens were recovering Tuesday at Cleveland MetroHealth Medical Center after receiving life-threatening injuries. The other received minor injuries from the crash and was able to walk away from the scene.

Columbia Gas of Ohio spokeswoman Amy Koncelik said in a Monday interview that Columbia Gas crews “were on the scene the entire time,” and there was no need to evacuate. Dembiec and the patrol said a Columbia Gas official did not arrive for 30 minutes to an hour.

Koncelik said Tuesday a field technician arrived about 30 minutes after Columbia Gas was called, and the technician called for backup upon arrival. More technicians arrived 30 to 45 minutes later, she said, and added that the workers were traveling from their homes because of the time of day.

“I think they dealt with it appropriately and promptly,” Koncelik said.

Dembiec said his department handled the situation appropriately. Firefighters worked with Columbia Gas officials to survey the scene, and Dembiec said acting immediately may have led to a fire or an explosion.

“Ultimately, it’s our decision, but we consult with Columbia Gas,” he said.

Dembiec said that after two hours, firefighters decided to perform a “snatch and grab” when they felt the gas pressure was safe. Still, he said, the move was dangerous and potentially life-threatening.

“At any time, one change to the breeze or a falling brick … would have changed things,” he said. “We took a calculated risk.”

Contact Chelsea Miller at 329-7123 or cmiller@chroniclet.com.