I don’t know what possessed me to walk to the right side of my house yesterday. It is a pathway I rarely use. Immediately upon rounding the corner, I detected that unmistakable odor of natural gas. There was a leak and the smell was coming near or from the meter that is similar to the one pictured below.
The smell of gas has always scared me. I grew up with a gas water heater in my parents’ house, and my dad instilled in me and my siblings that “bad” things could happen if there was ever a gas leak. He told me that if I ever detected the odor of peaches, we had a gas leak and I was supposed to let him know immediately. (Gas does not naturally have an odor. Companies add something to it to give it its distinctive odor, and back when I was growing up, that smell was one that was similar to peaches.)
I asked my next door neighbor, Kelly, to take a whiff of the air. She definitely smelled it. I went into the house for the phone to call the gas company and the operator who took my call said she would dispatch someone. Then she proceeded to tell me not to go back into the house, not to use the phone, not to open or close windows, not to have an open flame near the house, and in general- just to leave the area.
I walked next door to Kelly’s house, where her husband told me the leak was probably the result of the work that had been done on the meter the week before. I had to concur. Only last week, Vectren, our local gas company, left a hang tag on my front door stating that a contracted firm would be replacing a “riser” leading from the gas line in the yard to the meter. Company literature promised that the area in front of the meter would be dug up and that the area would be returned to its original state.
I am not a trusting soul when it comes to believing that any repair work will be to my satisfaction if I am not around to check our the end result. And having my yard torn up didn’t sit well with me, no matter how small a job this riser replacement would be. Call me picky, but workers often do things incompletely and/or don’t check to see if everything works or looks like it’s supposed to once they’re done with the job.
The very next day after receiving the initial hang tag notice, I returned home to see a green flag in my yard and a new hang tag on the door telling me that the “scheduled” work had been completed, and since I was not at home when the workman completed the job, he had turned off the gas and I would have to call to have my gas service turned on and the appliances re-lit. I called the phone number I was given, gas service was restored, and I never gave it another thought. That is, until yesterday when the smell of gas and the possibility of fire and my house being blown to smithereens kept haunting me. I am not an alarmist, but who wouldn’t think the worst when faced with this type of situation?
When the Vectren technician showed up at my house a short while later, I was relieved. I figured he would fix the problem and I could go back into the house. Wrong. He determined the location of the leak, told me he believed that the contractors who performed the work could have cracked a seal, and he couldn’t fix it because he didn’t have the parts. He called his supervisor, explained that he needed someone else sent to the jobsite, and asked for approval. The supervisor, in his infinite wisdom of probably never having worked out in the field, said NO. Excuse me, but aren’t gas leaks considered a priority with this company?! Should I be inconvenienced because this man won’t allow another tech to bring over a needed part? The technician was told to turn off the gas and explain to me that someone would be out to repair the problem after the weekend and I could possibly expect someone on Monday.
I would be without gas for cooking and hot water for bathing for two days! And even though the neighbors offered us the use of their home, I knew I had to make an another attempt at having our service restored. I called Vectren once again and asked to speak with a field supervisor. I was told no one was on duty to speak with customers because it was the weekend. I asked to speak with the customer service supervisor. I was told that there were no supervisors on duty over the weekend. With no supervisors on duty whatsoever, what DO Vectren employees have as an option when they have a question, a problem, or in general just need to contact a supervisor? Do they just run amok because there is no one on duty to see what they are doing, or in my case, NOT doing?
I was resigned to doing without hot water for the weekend after hearing the customer service rep tell me once again that she could not help me. She reiterated that I would have to just wait for someone to show up for service. I dejectedly went back to the Kelly’s house and had lunch. Her husband came in to tell me that a different technician was now at the gas meter and was attempting to fix the problem. I went over to talk to him, and he explained that his supervisor had called him to say that he was authorized to fix the leak. The original tech showed up a few minutes later, as well. Both of them concurred that the crew that did the repair work had botched the job. Turns out that the first crew was not even employed by Vectren, but rather, were workmen from another company contracted by Vectren. They are not even licensed plumbers or technicians. And this is who works on the gas lines leading to people’s homes????
If someone had inadvertently lit a match, fired up the barbeque grill, or had caused any sort of spark near the gas meter, the possibility for an explosion was there. Someone could have hurt. All as a result of someone not doing his or her job correctly.
Vectren will most assuredly will be getting a call from me on Monday morning. Surely, company supervisors will be on duty then. I will be telling them that the initial work was done shoddily and that no one even checked the finished project to see if there were any gas leaks in the newly replaced pipe joints. (easily done by applying a soapy mixture to the pipe joints to see if any bubbles appear). I’ll also be telling them that the crew didn’t leave the work area in the same condition as they found it. And I’ll be telling them that the field supervisor’s original decision to make me wait 2 days for service was ludicrous.
I still don’t know what actually made the field supervisor contact the technicians to tell them they could fix my meter and the leak. Did he have a moment of remorse in his decision to inconvenience me and let me go for two days without gas service? I don’t know.
I guess I am just glad that nothing happened in the four-day time period that the gas was leaking into the air outside my house. Was there enough gas pooling to have set off an explosion if a spark or a flame had made contact with it? Maybe, maybe not, but I’ll never know. Does that make it any less important or scary? I just count ourselves lucky.