A gas leak shut down four buildings and a portion of South Church Street on campus at approximately 9 a.m. Tuesday morning after a facilities crew punctured a gas line in the process of digging a hole to install a new building sign between Ehringer and the Schmucker Science Center.The facilities department contacted WCU Public Safety as well as PECO after realizing that gas was exiting the line outside of the buildings. The building closings and evacuations were primarily a precautionary measure as the probability of any sort of explosion occurring was low due to the gas leak being outside and dissipating into the surrounding air. Some gas did enter the buildings, however, through the ventilation systems ,which take air in and remove it from the building.
E-mail and text messages were sent to the WCU community about an hour after the incident to notify that a gas line had been punctured and that Boucher, Schmucker and the Ehringer Annex had been closed.
Public Safety was the first of the organizations notified to arrive on the scene due to proximity and entered the buildings to assess by odor if gas had made its way inside.
“They knew exactly what to do and did it immediately,” Pam Sheridan, of WCU Public Relations, said.
Fire alarms were activated to evacuate the buildings of faculty and students and the area was quarantined until approximately 11 a.m.
Dr. Martin Helmke, a geology professor at WCU and also a volunteer firefighter, received a page at 9:50 from Station 53 on Rosedale Ave.
“I was meeting with a student on Tuesday in Boucher Hall when my fire pager activated,” Helmke said. “I bicycled to the fire station and met with other volunteer firefighters to respond to a reported gas leak.”
The firefighters entered the buildings when they arrived to campus, according to Helmke, to make sure no one had remained inside and used their equipment that is capable of detecting gas levels to measure what amounts had entered through the ventilation system. An hour later, the fire department left the scene and the buildings were reopened.
The hole that was being dug by the facilities crew for the new sign required a diameter of 16 inches and a depth of 40 inches. Because the crew was digging in an area that was likely to have underground installments hand tools were being used, yet the line was struck 21 inches in, according to a report from Public Safety.
A crew from PECO arrived and shut the gas line down and made the necessary repairs and the buildings were reopened roughly two hours after the breakage.
A map of utilities running underground throughout campus was updated in 1999 yet apparently the appropriate underground markings at the site of the digging were not present. There is also an extensive map for the residential quad where the construction of the new dormitory is taking place and the Tuesday’s gas leak was not related to that construction.
Shane Madden is a fourth-year student majoring in history with a minor in journalism. He can be reached at SM590676@wcupa.edu.