Queens Explosion A Reminder About Propane Safety

CBS 2 - October 28, 2009

by John Slattery

NEW YORK (CBS) -Two Queens residents are lucky to be alive after a powerful explosion. Firefighters believe it was sparked by some mishandled propane.

The explosion occurred about 7:30 Monday night at the Flushing home at 32-25 Leavitt Street and blew off the rear of the house, exposing bedrooms, and bowed the front wall of the house. Two residents suffered minor burns.

Fire officials say it began when a man who lives in the home was emptying a propane tank in the back of the house, with the back door open.

"We're not sure why, but he was in the back doorway. The wind must have changed, perhaps shifted and it actually blew the propane back into the house," said FDNY Asst. Chief Edward Kilduff.

A man and his wife had to be pulled from debris inside the home, and neighbors were evacuated as a precaution. The incident made for a difficult lesson about bleeding or handling propane gas.

"You have to have these away from the home because they are very, very dangerous," said Lt. Anthony Mancuso, the Fire Safety Education Director for the FDNY.

Mancuso said the problem with propane is that it's heavier than air, and unlike natural gas that will quickly dissipate, propane tends to hang around.

"If this leaks, it can go through a basement window, end up in the basement and then when the water heater goes off or your boiler fires or even someone with an electrical switch turns the light on," he said, that can be all it takes for ignition and a huge explosion. Such tanks must be stored outside, away from the house, and the gas must always be contained.

"You don't bleed them, you don't open that valve. That valve is only opened when it's properly set up on a barbeque," he said.

It just goes to show how dangerous it can be to handle any kind of fuel near a spark or a flame.

Fire investigators said that in New York City, dealers cannot refill empty tanks that are brought back. They are for exchange only. A maximum of two tanks can be kept at one time and they must be kept at least 10 feet away from a home.