Gas leaks are incredibly scary yet all too common. According to a 2018 report from the National Fire Protection Association or NFPA, in that year, 4,200 gas leak fires occurred in the United States. That has you wondering something. If you call the fire department, will they look for gas leaks in your home?
Yes, most fire departments will check for gas leaks in homes and commercial buildings. When the firefighters arrive on the premises, they’ll use a gas monitor to determine the levels of gas. Then they’ll evacuate the building and vent out the gas.
In this article, we’ll start by discussing gas leak risks. Then we’ll explain in more detail how firefighters respond to gas leaks, including whether you must pay for this service. You’re not going to want to miss it!
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What Is a Gas Leak? Are They Serious?
The 2018 NFPA report mentions that in 2018, fire departments in the US received calls about gas leaks up to 340 times a day. So what exactly is a gas leak and is it a big deal if your home has one?
Gas Leaks 101
Gas leaks occur when a pipeline breaks, allowing natural gases or similar products to leech out. Natural gas is a combination of hydrocarbons that include helium, hydrogen sulfide, nitrogen, carbon dioxide, and mostly methane.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration or EIA states that, in 2020, the US burned through 30.5 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, which is 34 percent of the country’s energy consumption. That makes it highly likely that your home uses natural gas.
Signs of a Gas Leak
When gas leaks occur, you might be able to smell an odor akin to rotten eggs or sulfur. In some instances, there is no accompanying smell, which makes identifying a gas leak even more difficult.
You can look for certain signs around your house outside of the smell of gas to confirm a gas leak. For instance, if your houseplants are dying left and right when they’re usually healthy, that can be due to a gas leak. That’s also true if your water bubbles whenever you use it.
Check your gas pipes too (if you feel it’s safe to do so, of course). You might see a dust cloud by the gas line. This cloud will be white or gray. The line can whistle and hiss. We don’t recommend trying to fix a gas line issue yourself though!
The gases take over the oxygen in the air you breathe, which will lead to symptoms. If the issue goes unmitigated, the severity of these symptoms will increase.
The symptoms of a gas leak are the following:
- Ear ringing
- Lack of appetite
- Skin paleness and blistering if you’re too close to the gas
- Chest pain
- Depression and other mood changes
- Throat and eye irritation
- Inability to breathe
Unfortunately, gas leaks can affect animals as well. Your pets might stop eating and begin vomiting more frequently. Their eyes will water and/or look red. They’ll walk around the house more slowly and appear disoriented. Their behavior and mood can both change. Your pet might also have a hard time breathing.
Are Gas Leaks Serious?
If the above symptoms didn’t make it clear, yes, gas leaks are incredibly serious. You can die from a gas leak.
How? Gas leaks can lead to the release of carbon monoxide, which is a colorless, odorless gas. If you have a carbon monoxide detector, it will begin beeping like crazy. Yet without one of these devices, you might not know that carbon monoxide has invaded your home until it’s too late.
Carbon monoxide poisoning can lead to the death of both people and animals. The symptoms of carbon monoxide exposure can look different than those we discussed above. In addition to those symptoms, you might experience lip and skin color changes, muscle control loss, and chest and stomach pain.
The reason carbon monoxide causes death is that it prevents your body from sending oxygen to the brain, the heart, and other parts of the body. This happens when your body produces carboxyhemoglobin, which combines hemoglobin and carbon monoxide.
As carboxyhemoglobin levels increase, so too do carbon monoxide poisoning symptoms. If you have 10 percent carboxyhemoglobin in your system, you probably won’t notice any symptoms, but by 15 percent, mild symptoms come on such as a headache.
If your body contains 25 percent carboxyhemoglobin, your headache can be severe, and you’ll have nausea as well. By this point, if you get out of the room containing the carbon monoxide, you’ll bounce back fairly fast.
Should the levels of carboxyhemoglobin rise to 30 percent in your body, you’ll have more serious symptoms. If you got away from the source of carbon monoxide right away, your recovery would be prolonged. That’s especially the case for pregnant women, those with preexisting heart disease, the elderly, and babies and children.
At 45 percent carboxyhemoglobin in the body, you’re no longer conscious. Once the levels get to around 50 percent or higher, death is likely.
It’s hard for professionals other than medical staff to determine your carboxyhemoglobin levels, so carbon monoxide might be measured by airborne particles per million or PPM instead. Here’s how carbon monoxide levels in PPM affect you:
- 200 PPM – After two to three hours, symptom onset will begin, including dizziness, nausea, fatigue, and a slight headache.
- 400 PPM – Within one to two hours, symptoms will get more serious. In three hours, the symptom severity is considered life-threatening.
- 800 PPM – Within 45 minutes, convulsions, nausea, and dizziness will occur. In two hours, you’d fall unconscious, usually with death following not too long after.
- 1,600 PPM – At such a high concentration of carbon monoxide, it would take only 20 minutes for symptoms like nausea, dizziness, and headaches to begin. Death would occur within the hour.
- 3,200 PPM – In five to 10 minutes, symptoms would start like nausea, dizziness, and headache. Death would occur within 60 minutes.
- 6,400 PPM – It would only take a minute or two for symptom onset; death would follow within 25 to 30 minutes.
- 12,800 PPM – This extremely high concentration of carbon monoxide would cause death in a minute or several.
Even if you don’t experience carbon monoxide poisoning from a gas leak, the gas line can explode in worst-case scenarios. This too can be deadly.
Should I Call the Fire Department If There’s a Gas Leak?
If you suspect there is a gas leak in your home or business, leave the building and dial 911 immediately.
Do you suspect your home has a gas leak? You don’t necessarily have to feel sick for a gas leak to occur. Contacting emergency services is always safer than trying to investigate gas pipes yourself.
Please leave your home and dial 911 or the emergency equivalent in your part of the world.
As we mentioned in the intro, many fire departments will respond to calls about potential gas leaks. Once they arrive on your premises, here’s what the firefighters will do.
Gas Monitor Scanning
The firefighters will wear a self-contained breathing apparatus and personal protective equipment for their safety. They’ll bring with them a gas monitor or detector, a device that can identify even minute levels of gas, be that natural gas or other sources.
Firefighters are usually trained to smell gas, which can indicate a gas leak before they even use a gas detector. The detector’s reading will confirm their suspicions and must always be used. Firefighters can go nose blind to the methyl mercaptan odorizer in natural gas after a while, especially if they respond to gas leak calls often.
If the gas monitor has identified a gas leak in the home, then the firefighters might require that you and your family evacuate the premises for the duration of the mitigation if you haven’t already left. The fire department should limit the team that’s in the house as well for everyone’s safety.
Powering Down the Gas Supply
Next, the firefighters will trace back the gas supply and turn off all devices that use the natural gas. They’ll also power down ignition sources. In some instances, the firefighters will use an outside breaker to turn off a structure’s electricity.
Ventilating the Gas
Now it’s time to remove the gas that’s already in your home. This requires explosion-proof fans. Gas fans that run on positive pressure are an alternative measure, but the firefighters must have a well-sealed pressure cone.
Monitoring the Situation
Upon ventilating out all the natural gas, your home should be safe to inhabit once again. The fire department will give you the okay for that. The firefighters themselves should now be able to go into your home without using protective equipment and breathing apparatuses.
Will I be Charged If the Fire Department Finds a Gas Leak?
You will not be charged if the fire department finds a gas leak at your home or business.
You’ve heard through a few people you know that if you call emergency services such as the local fire department for a gas leak and there is none that you’re charged money. You’ve also heard that you have to pay for the gas leak mitigation strategies the fire department uses.
Fortunately, neither is true. Whether the firefighters find no gas leak or a very serious leak when they get to your home, it costs no money for them to check out the issue.
Please don’t hesitate to call emergency services if you suspect a gas leak. We want to reiterate that ignored gas leaks can cause explosions or lead to carbon monoxide poisoning. It’s for your safety, your family’s, and your pets’ that you contact a professional.
UGI’s phone number for gas leaks is 800-276-2722. As they say on their website: “Remember, there is no charge for UGI personnel to come and investigate a natural gas odor.”
PSE&G says on their website that you should evacuate your home and stand back 350 feet. Then you can contact them at 1-800-880-7734 or PSEG. “You will not be charged for reporting a potential gas leak,” mentions PSE&G. That’s two gas companies mentioning that you can receive free gas leak inspections.
Will the Fire Department Check for Carbon Monoxide?
The fire department will check for carbon monoxide in your home (CO). If you suspect you may have increased levels of CO in your home leave the area and dial 911 immediately. The fire department has tools that allow them to check the CO levels in a building and will notify you if the CO levels are elevated.
Your home recently had a gas leak. You thought your local fire department took care of it, but now your carbon monoxide alarm is going off frequently. Maybe it’s a good idea to have a professional back out to your home to confirm matters.
Can you still rely on the fire department to check for carbon monoxide, or should you call another emergency number?
You can and should contact your local fire department. They will often come out to the home themselves, but in some instances, they’ll deploy a hazardous materials team. Like they did when checking for a gas leak, the fire department will use a gas detector.
The fire team will arrive with breathing apparatuses and personal protective equipment, which will be familiar to you if they responded during your home’s gas leak. After calibrating their equipment, the firefighters will use the gas detector to get a read on your home’s carbon monoxide levels.
You will have been evacuated before this since carbon monoxide can be deadly to inhale. The firefighters will determine where the carbon monoxide leak is coming from, such as a faulty gas pipe, and mitigate the issue.
No, you will not be charged for this. Unlike gas leaks though, which your gas company can respond to, they might not be able to help with a carbon monoxide leak. Since time is of the essence when carbon monoxide is spreading throughout your home, call 911 immediately.
Fire departments will check for gas leaks and carbon monoxide leaks as well. Since gas leaks can cause explosions and potentially fatal carbon monoxide poisoning, you should never hesitate to call for emergency services.
Whether you contact your gas company, the police department, or your local firefighters, this is for your safety. And no, you’re not charged for a gas leak check, so don’t delay!