In routine inspections of boilers and heavy machinery equipment, inspectors and consultants often look to prevent business interruption and property damage. Yet, life safety is always at the heart of these inspections, and in a recent inspection, this mindset saved lives.
In early 2019, Harrington Henry, Boiler and Machinery Consultant for TÜV SÜD ARISE arrived at an NJ rectory and preschool to perform a routine, annual boiler inspection. Upon arrival at the rectory, he met with the site custodian who (Harrington noted), appeared tired and disoriented. Together they proceeded to the rectory boiler room, passing the main school building. As soon as they reached the front door of the facility, Harrington’s 4 Gas Monitor beeped once, and upon opening the door of the boiler room the meter went into full alarm mode (230 ppm’s and rising), which denotes a major carbon monoxide (CO) leak.
A 4 Gas Monitor is designed to protect workers in potentially hazardous environments, such as boiler rooms and oil refineries. The meters are designed to detect insufficient oxygen conditions, the presence of hydrogen sulfide, carbon monoxide and lower explosive levels of other combustible gases. For reference, a “high” CO level starts at 70ppm; the 230ppm signature in this rectory boiler room was incredibly dangerous.
Immediately, Harrington noted the warning and told the custodian to close the boiler room door. The custodian, as noted, was moving slowly so Harrington quickly assisted him in leaving the area. As they left the area, the ppm level fell to 30, which indicated that the gas leak was spreading to other areas of the and school.
Using quick thinking, Harrington evacuated the employees at the front office, and assisted in evacuating the classrooms, which were filled with students and teachers. Authorities were called, and, thankfully, there were no serious injuries. Harrington then returned to the boiler room via the back exit and managed to shut the boiler off using the emergency shutdown switch located within arm’s reach inside the doorway.
Toxic CO emissions, such as that which occurred in this instance are odorless, colorless and can prove fatal if no warning is given and the area not evacuated. Thankfully, Harrington Henry was on site with a 4 Gas Monitor and process safety knowledge to notice the major leak. Had the inspection not been scheduled for that day, serious injuries and fatalities (including children) would have likely occurred within minutes.
Harrington’s actions saved lives that day. He provided advice to all inspectors and consultants:
Harrington Henry is a Boiler and Machinery Consultant for TÜV SÜD ARISE. He is based out of New Jersey and has served in the US Army for 31 years. He is currently a member of the US Army Reserves.
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