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Published: 10/18/2006

Rossford miscues spur review of evacuation plans

BY ERIKA RAY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Shortly after hearing what he said sounded like a low-flying airplane, Tom Wheaton said firefighters from the Rossford Fire Department informed him and his wife, Micki, that they needed to evacuate their home.

About 30 other Rossford residents were given the same message on Sept. 30 after Ric-Man Construction Inc. of Sterling Heights, Mich., struck a Columbia Gas of Ohio pipeline, causing natural gas to leak into the area.

Nine hours later, residents were allowed back in their homes after what they said was a frustrating period in which there was a lack of communication from the city.

Mayor Bill Verbosky, Jr., doesn't dispute their claims and said as much to concerned residents at last week's Rossford City Council meeting.

"We needed to do a better job with communication," he said. "There will be a comprehensive report on how to handle this in the future."

To that end, the city's fire and police departments are revisiting and revamping their emergency plans, especially the procedures to follow when evacuating homes.

"It hasn't been looked at in a while because it was the first time we've had an evacuation in Rossford in probably 10 or 15 years," Rossford Fire Chief James Verbosky said. "We have procedures in place, and we went to them, but we went to them too late."

The construction crew hit the two-inch, high-pressure line on Glenwood Avenue south of Santus Drive near the railroad tracks around 1 p.m. on Sept. 30 while doing waterline work for the city of Toledo.

Residents were evacuated from homes on Santus, Glenwood, and Indian Ridge Trail in the immediate area of the leak.

After numerous unsuccessful attempts to reduce the pressure and cap the line, the gas was shut off at 9:10 p.m. Residents were allowed back into their homes around 10 p.m.

Evacuated residents were told early in the afternoon that they would be able to return home in an hour. That same message was repeated several times to residents as the gas company attempted different repairs.

As the day wore on, residents continued to grow more frustrated because they weren't sure where they could go, and some didn't have available transportation.

"I wish they would have communicated better to the people who were evacuated," said Mr. Wheaton of 45 Santus Drive. "No one gave us any direction of where to go."

As a part of the emergency plan revamping process, the chief said he's working on a new procedure that will fix the communication gap by establishing two different command posts: one at the incident and the other at the city's administration building.

Communication will be free-flowing back and forth from the two posts, and press releases will be issued as developments arise.

Residents can be apprised of the situation by talking with a councilman who will be the designated liaison between the city and its residents or by calling a city phone number to listen to a recording telling them where they can go for shelter.

Chief Verbosky said he's also working on an agreement with the Toledo Area Regional Transit Authority for temporary transportation in case a similar situation arises in the future.

He said a draft of the plan should be ready by council's next safety committee meeting.

After the draft is presented, Chief Verbosky said he plans to incorporate ideas city officials suggest "so it's not my plan. It's everybody's plan. With everybody's input, we'll come up with a plan that will work."



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