There are certain perils—fires, major weather events, and so forth—that announce themselves clearly; others are more subtle, if no less hazardous. Things like gas leaks, electrical shorts and surges, and water leaks may not be as dramatic as a hurricane or a nor’easter, but the damage they can cause can be staggeringly expensive. Let’s look at how residents, managers and building staff can recognize the signs of these utility-related hazards, and what they should do when they encounter them.
Recognizing a natural gas leak is simple—if you hear a hissing sound and smell rotten eggs, or just notice the smell, there’s probably a leak. When natural gas is first extracted from the ground it is clear and odorless, but due to its explosive tendencies a chemical called Mercaptan is added to it before it’s sent out to people’s homes to give it the distinct rotten egg smell as a safety precaution.
“If you have a gas leak one of the first things is leaving the area immediately,” says Judy Comoletti, division manager of public education at the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). “Get out of the area and to a safe location. If you’re in a multifamily home you should notify all of the other residents and the authorities right away.”
When mixed with the air, natural gas can be ignited with a simple spark—even a static shock could do it—so leaving the area, warning building management as well as neighbors and contacting the local fire department should be the first priority. Beyond that, "Don't light a match or smoke, turn appliances (including flashlights) on or off, use a telephone or start a car," advises National Grid, an international electricity and gas company that operates across the U.S.
The most important thing to do is to call the local fire department immediately—and then follow their directions. All fire prevention pros stress the importance of calling 911 or your local utility if you suspect that you smell gas—don't ever assume that someone else will call. For everyone’s protection, leave the area and make that call yourself.