Emergency Management - The Pyrolysis Issue


tags: Western Australia Police, Pyrolysis, Emergency Management,

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By Senior Sergeant Darryl Brandis, Western Australia Police

From the March 2012 issue of The Australian Police Journal

The Call

At 1218 hours on Monday, 18 May, 2009, police from Perth’s South East Metropolitan District were called to a ‘gas leak’ at a petrol station at the corner of Abernethy Road and Kewdale Road, Kewdale.

I attended as Acting Assistant District Officer in company with another Assistant District Officer, Inspector Kim Fergusson.

By chance we were both out and about in the district’s Emergency Management Vehicle, only five kilometres from the petrol station. This ‘chance’ happening was as a result of Inspector Fergusson and I conducting a scene re-assessment from an unrelated emergency at a different petrol station, where a fuel tanker had exploded five days previously. In that incident, Inspector Fergusson performed the role of Police Sector Commander and I of Operations Manager. Two of seven fuel cells in a petrol tanker had ruptured and exploded, burning down the petrol station administration block and store.

Our immediate reaction when we got the 18 May call was to ask, ‘what is the chance of two explosions in the same district at two petrol stations within one week?’ Whilst pondering this question, a strong feeling of déjà vu was percolating.

The first South East Metro member at the scene was Constable Lloyd who, with the aid of several traffic officers, was effectively cordoning and containing the petrol station. The Hazard Management Agency for this situation was Fire and Emergency Services Authority, which arrived just after Inspector Fergusson and I.

A handover was conducted and Inspector Fergusson and I assumed the roles we had performed at the previous incident.

Cordon, Contain, Manage

The petrol station was at the intersection of two major, dual-lane roads. Various businesses and the petrol station occupied the four corners; the petrol station alone was a large ‘trucker’ facility with rest rooms and a restaurant. Traffic at this intersection is a heavy mix of large and small vehicles, most either accessing Kewdale’s industrial areas, or Perth’s International and Domestic Airport. Additionally, a freight railway runs parallel to Abernethy Road, just 80 metres from the petrol station.

In the handover briefing, we had been advised that a crane, contracted to the company Western Power, was moving a light pole to an area on the verge adjacent to the petrol station and intersection. The crane’s operator had just lifted the light pole into position, when it came in contact with the electrical high tension (HT) lines overhead. As a result of the contact, the electrical current travelled through the vehicle - then into the ground and to service station’s industrial gas storage container or ‘gas bullet’, just 30 metres away. This caused a fracture to the bullet, and a large volume of gas began to leak.

With a real risk of the escaping gas igniting within the service station’s precinct, we immediately extended the exclusion zone for traffic to one kilometre in each direction, and policed all access to and egress from the affected area. All trains were also re-routed as a precaution. An office block adjacent to the site was evacuated, along with all other buildings close by which were deemed to be in harm’s way ...

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