911 tapes: Quick response prevented propane disaster

Sacramento BeeSeptember 3, 2011 

A calm, take-charge dispatcher, quick action by firefighters and police, and plenty of good breaks were were credited with preventing a catastrophe in Lincoln last week.

City officials Friday released recordings of 911 calls to the lone dispatcher on duty along with recordings of police and fire radio communications during the critical minutes following the first report of fire atop a rail tanker car containing 30,000 gallons of propane.

The fire prompted the evacuation of approximately 4,800 homes, as well as businesses and City Hall, within the one-mile radius of the fire that could have been affected had the tanker exploded.

Before the fire burned itself out 40 hours later, approximately 50 agencies had come to the city's aid, but Fire Chief Dave Whitt and interim Police Chief Paul Shelgren credited first responders with preventing a disaster.

"This is what it sounded like for the poor dispatcher by herself," Whitt said as a recording of the 911 calls was played during a City Hall news conference.

Veteran dispatcher Teri Leedy fielded calls from a worker at the Northern Energy propane storage facility, who reported the fire while trying to aid an injured colleague who was stranded on top of the burning tanker.

A ladder provided access to an inspection valve on top of the tanker. When the worker opened it, the propane ignited.

"The force of the ignition blew him to the other end of the car," Whitt said. "He would have had to go through the fire to get to the ladder."

See a photo gallery of the fire at SacBee.com

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