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Some question UGI's handling of gas leak; utility taking 2nd look

By Jaccii Farris, Reporter, JFarris@wfmz.com
Published On: Feb 07 2014 04:18:48 PM CST

A gas leak in Allentown on Sunday is putting the spotlight on UGI.

ALLENTOWN, Pa. -

A gas leak in Allentown on Sunday is putting the spotlight on UGI, sparking criticisms about the way the incident was handled.

A high-ranking source inside the Allentown Fire Department said, as he watched Sunday's gas leak played out, he couldn't help but think of another gas leak that killed five people.

Just after midnight Sunday, firefighters evacuated people who live in the 1800 block of Turner Street.

"I was like nervous. The gas, the smell of the gas actually gave me a headache," said Sonia Soloman, who wasn't the only one who was nervous.

The fire department source told 69 News the conditions -- same time of year, fluctuating temperatures and a broken cast iron gas main -- reminded him of the deadly gas explosion at 13th and Allen streets in 2011.

He said he's watched UGI handle these incidents well in the past, but this time, he claims the UGI supervisor was so frazzled he read the electronic street map upside down, lacked a sense of urgency about making the repairs, dismissed the fire department and let people return to their homes before the problem was resolved.

UGI officials said they are taking the assertions very seriously.

"We have already reviewed this incident and we will continue to review to see if all of our proper protocols were followed and the situation was handled appropriately," said Joe Swope, communications manager for Reading-based UGI, who noted that the company's records indicate protocol was followed.

And there was no danger to residents because the gas leak was located in the street. No gas was detected in homes.

UGI said its crews fixed the problem immediately and returned the next day to repair a smaller leak discovered in the same line.

UGI said its employees and contractors receive rigid training and follow strict protocols. Even so, Swope said UGI is taking a second look at Sunday's incident.

"Safety is a core value at UGI, and we are investing in our communities to make our system as safe and reliable as we possibly can," said Swope.

As part of that investment, UGI said it will spend $85 million this year replacing cast iron and bare steel pipes. In the last four years, UGI said it replaced 27 percent of cast iron in Allentown alone.