To prevent unrestricted release of gas during fires, many European countries require an automatic thermal gas shutoff valve on all-natural gas-fed appliances. In the U.S., states such as Massachusetts require automatic thermal gas shut-off devices, but this is not uniformly required throughout the country.
To find out if U.S. fires would have been better contained with automatic thermal gas shutoffs, TECO Americas surveyed first responders in Texas, California and Pennsylvania to learn from their experiences.
One of the respondents, a Pennsylvanian fire fighter, recalled a fire that originated in a basement. Although the fire department arrived to the scene of the fire quickly, the fire fighters encountered difficulty in locating the basement door. This slight delay gave the fire extra seconds to burn before the gas was terminated at the curb. During this time, the fire burnt through a hot-water heater line and became gas-fed. When the basement door was finally found, a blue-ish flame was already coming up the stairs.
The time that the fire fighters lost while searching for the basement door was not much, but by enabling the fire to reach a gas source, the house suffered significantly more damage. Had a thermally activated gas shut-off device been installed, the outcome could have been very different.
“Examining fires such as this one reported from Pennsylvania helps us to understand the importance of thermal automatic shut-offs,” reports Wally Armstrong, a principal of the Liberty Group, a supplier to gas utilities. In their survey of first responders, TECO Americas received many similar reports. Departments in all three states reported incidents where fires were inflamed after reaching appliance gas lines.