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Gamblewood propane tank worries spark safety discussion

GAMBLEWOOD — While Gamblewood residents are concerned about a 30,000-gallon propane tank being installed at the nearby Kingston Lumber Industrial Park, propane industry employees and fire district officials say there are many precautions taken to ensure that such a storage facility would be safe for the area.

Arch Hudelson, a field researcher for Ransome Manufacturing and Meeder Equipment Company, which is constructing the tank and facility, said the equipment is made under the strictest of fire and building codes.

“All that (propane) product is quite safely kept up inside that vessel,” Hudelson explained.

The facility’s dimensions

Bowman Propane of Tacoma would own the facility housing the cylinder, which will measure about 9-feet in diameter and be approximately 66-feet long. It would be located on a concrete slab and fenced off, as required by building codes and National Fire Protection Association codes, Hudelson said. There would also be two emergency shutdown systems on site — one within arm’s reach at the transfer location where delivery trucks are filled and one between 25 and 100 feet away.

Engineers also take into consideration the location of earthquake zones in the area, Hudelson said.

The company built and installed six of these exact same tanks in Seattle and each of them withstood the 2001 earthquake.

“They didn’t wiggle, they didn’t move, they didn’t do anything,” he said.

Potential for explosion is minimal, he added, as there are multiple precautions taken when loading and unloading gas and there are various safety mechanisms installed within the tank when it is constructed.

There haven’t been any explosions or incidents regarding propane tanks in recent memory in the area, said Kitsap County Fire Marshal Derrick Crowley.

A gas station, which is expected to have diesel and unleaded gasoline for commercial use, has been proposed to be constructed nearby but technology has improved so much during the past 30 years that its proximity is not a problem, Hudelson said.

This site was chosen because propane is currently brought up from Tacoma, said Bowman Propane area sales manager Michael Dew.

“We can be more efficient and be able to make our costs less by being in a location in the market where we work,” he said, noting that about 80 percent of the company’s deliveries are to residences and the remaining 20 percent are to commercial businesses.

The location where the facility is proposed is a “tight, clean organized industrial park,” Dew said. “It just makes sense to be with that caliber of business people. We fit in there pretty well.”

Potential hazards

are minimal

As for concerns about leaks or problems, Crowley, Hudelson, Dew and Poulsbo Fire Department Lieutenant and Hazardous Materials trainer John Warnke and North Kitsap Fire & Rescue Fire Chief Paul Nichol said safety codes and restrictions on the engineering of propane facilities are extremely strict. Nichol emphasized that there are safety mechanisms built within the tank to prevent hazardous situations.

If a truck drove off without removing the filling hose, “there is an internal valve that would shut it down,” he said.

Firefighters are also trained to handle propane fires but such incidents are few and far between, Warnke said. Propane fires and explosions that most people read about involve tanks that are improperly installed and maintained, he added.

Also, if there is a leak, which can be detected by an raw stinking odor, that doesn’t mean that it’s flammable, Warnke said. There is a limited range in which propane vapors are flammable and fire departments have equipment to detect when it is or isn’t able to ignite.

Nichol’s primary concern with the project is if a truck or car loses control on State Route 104 and careens into the facility. He would like to see the county require that concrete posts be installed around the facility to help prevent such an incident from happening.

While NKF&R and PFD crews have the training and equipment to fight a propane fire, “it’s just a slight bigger scale than a 500-gallon tank along somebody’s house,” Nichol said.

NKF&R has sent a response plan to Crowley’s office that includes having several engines respond from the NKF&R and PFD stations and either from the NKF&R-South Kingston or -Suquamish station if a hazardwous situation were to arise. As for dealing with the fire itself, because of the chemistry of propane, crews typically have to let the fire burn out. If there is potential for explosion, everyone within 2,000 feet would be evacuated, Nichol said.

Fire codes in place

for a reason

Citizen concerns are as valid as any in regards to flammable liquids and gasses and there is always potential for a hazardous situation, Crowley said.

But that’s why there are fire code regulations to address those concerns.

“That is why we have the standards there to address it,” he said.

When a project of this magnitude is proposed, a fire safety analysis is required and it addresses any necessary special protection measures that need to be taken. The analysis includes making sure the facility meets all fire code standards and the capability of the fire department’s response if there was a threatening situation.

Currently, Hudelson’s company is in the process of finishing up the fire analysis, which includes researching the layout of the valves, how they function and what they do in distress as well as document safety precautions and codes.

“This isn’t anything we take lightly,” he said.

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