Crews train to tackle new gas dangers

A mock disaster taught emergency crews to deal with spills of liquefied petroleum gas.

Dubai - February 18, 2009: Mohammad Al Balushi (right) and Ibrahim Yousef Al Hossani spray water on a truck during training of a simulated gas leak from a liquified petroleum gas truck rollover at the Civil Defence Training Centre in Al Aweer. ( Philip Cheung / The National ) *** Local Caption ***  PC0185-EmergencyResponse.jpg
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DUBAI // A mock disaster yesterday taught emergency crews to deal with spills of liquefied petroleum gas. Three days of training ended with a drill in Al Aweer suburb that simulated a leak of several tons of LPG from a tanker onto a busy road. Nabeel Ali, chief fire and safety compliance officer for Emirates National Oil Company (Enoc), said LPG shipments were increasing on the nation's motorways and training for public safety officers was vital.

"Because of the new hotels and buildings coming up everywhere in the Emirates, they all use LPG in their facilities," he said. "Therefore the number of tankers with LPG has increased, and it is a risk that cannot be ignored." A leak of LPG, which is a fuel for heating and cooking and for vehicles, must be handled differently from oil or gas leaks. "LPG is an extremely sensitive product, and so we are trying our best to inform the police and civil defence on how to tackle it," said Hisham Ali Mustafa, general manager of Enoc.

"What is important is that the gas, once outside of the tanker, has to be cooled so as not to spread and ignite, because it leads to a non-extinguishable fire," he said. "The tanker has to be cooled as well, before removing the remaining gas inside." Yesterday's drill included 52 officers from the civil defence, police, ambulance, and fire departments attending to an overturned tanker, its injured driver and leaking cargo.

Rescuers quickly freed the trapped driver and brought him to safety, a considerable distance away from the accident site. As medics attended to him, the police, fire, and civil defence turned their attention to the tanker, which was said to be holding about 10 tonnes of LPG. They spent much of their time dousing the scene with water. Once the tanker was sufficiently cooled, a rescue vehicle provided by Enoc siphoned the LPG from the overturned tanker. The vehicle has gas detection systems and a cold-welding system.

Several policemen pushed back crowds of people, which Mr Mustafa said was essential to preventing a fire. "The LPG could be ignited by anything, such as mobile phones, electronic items, so people who rush to see an accident, especially the media, should stand away from gas spills," he said. Mr Mustafa emphasised that the priority in an LPG accident was to stop leaks and cool the gas: "A spill should not escalate into a fire."

Civil Defence holds drills throughout the year to ensure its workers are up to date on the techniques and equipment used in the types of disasters that especially threaten the UAE, among them warehouse fires, huge traffic accidents, collapsed cranes and oil-tanker collisions. According to Mr Mustafa, there have been about 50 tanker spills in the Emirates in the past 10 years, most of them petrol. Only one of those tankers was carrying LPG.

"This type of incident can never happen, or it can happen six times in the next month. You never know," said an official from Civil Defense who took part in the training. "Therefore it is our duty to be prepared to deal with such a situation.