EMA was poised to provide assistance during gas line rupture

LISBON – Columbiana County Emergency Management Agency officials said they were ready to provide assistance if needed during a gas line rupture that occurred in Perry Township last Tuesday, but it never came to that.

An excavation crew installing a sewer line on Depot Road near state Route 45 punctured a Columbiana Gas line at 8:15 a.m., according to EMA Director Luke Newbold, who said he was briefed on the incident by Brandon Smith, the fire department captain on scene.

Newbold said Smith told him Columbia Gas workers were there by 8:30 a.m., just minutes before the first firefighters arrived, and the decision was made to evacuate residents who lived in the immediate vicinity and to close Depot Road.

The line breach occurred about 600 feet from the Blossom Nursing Home, which was advised of what happened. Since Blossom was upwind of the line breach, township officials decided not to evacuate the nursing home unless the circumstances changed. Newbold said the fire department kept some trucks at the nursing home as a precaution.

The line was repaired, and Depot Road reopened by 1:30 p.m.

The incident occurred the day before a story appeared in local newspapers about a St. Clair Township fire official who was quitting his volunteer position with the EMA because of “instability” within the agency, which was refuted by county commissioners, who said everything was operating smoothly.

Newbold was in Summit County for training on Tuesday but contacted Smith after learning that County Commissioner Tim Weigle had been told a township official was displeased with the EMA’s response.

Newbold said three phone calls were relayed to the EMA that day by the county sheriff’s office, which handles dispatching services for Perry Township. The first call taken by EMA Administrative Assistant Lisa Elliott advised them of the gas-line breach.

A second call advised the EMA the decision had been made to evacuate, and Elliott inquired if the township needed anything from the EMA and was told no. Newbold said after the second call Elliott texted Deputy EMA Director Edie Dillard, who was also out of the office at a meeting. The final call was received advising them the line had been repaired, and Depot Road reopened.

He said Perry Township never requested anything from the EMA or the Local Emergency Planning Committee, which is the state agency whose specific responsibility is to respond to hazardous material accidents in the county, including gas line incidents.

“They did not ask for our support because they had it under control. The calls Lisa got were just informational calls. If they had needed further assistance we would have taken the proper steps,” Newbold said, adding they did put the local Red Cross on notice in case a shelter needed to be opened.

The county’s LEPC shares office space in the EMA building and works closely with the EMA. LEPC Information Coordinator Willie Brantingham said he first learned of the incident and that a Columbia Gas team was already on scene from his wife, who is a dispatcher for the Salem Police Department. He then texted Newbold with the information.

Brantingham said he should have been notified after the EMA received the initial call, but the administrative assistant is new to the job. Newbold said that is something they will address as part of their regular review of policies and procedures.

Newbold said he also intends to speak with township officials “about what we can do to make it run more smoothly and better in the future.”