Skyview board member Eva Becker remembers that gas leak, which happened over Thanksgiving weekend about 10 years ago. "I had an electric oven, so I was the only one who could make a turkey, and people brought things over that they microwaved. It was a fun Thanksgiving and one of the most memorable," she recalls, adding it's not an experience she wants to repeat, despite the camaraderie.
"It's a real inconvenience. It was a tremendous amount of coordination between shareholders and management," Becker says, and has since advocated for calling the superintendent first.
However, Con Edison strongly disagrees. According to spokesman Allan Drury, “That is incredibly irresponsible and dangerous advice that could lead to a tragedy. Anyone who smells gas should leave the area and immediately call 911 or their utility.”
"Your super is your best line [of defense]," believes Becker, "because he knows which line is where and where you turn it off. A good relationship between the board and shareholders is also essential when there is a gas emergency. There is tendency for board members to feel protective of information. You can't do that. You have to be upfront and clear because you are neighbors. If you get on your high horse, that starts the spiral of distrust. Everyone is in it together."
Fortunately, most reports of gas complaints are not leaks. Con Edison averages 33,000 reports of gas leaks annually, 40 percent of which turn out not to be natural-gas leaks, according to Drury.
Still, since the March gas leak in East Harlem led to an explosion that leveled two buildings and killed eight people, Con Ed says it's seen an 85 percent increase in telephoned gas complaints since the accident, while the FDNY says it has responded to more than 10,000 gas reports in 2014, a 55 percent increase over 2013.
Change in NYC Policy
Another fallout of the explosion is that the FDNY now responds to complaints of gas leaks first, a policy change New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio's administration argues will lead to quicker responses to a potential life-threatening problem. Traditionally, the utility company responded first and only called the FDNY to the scene if the leak was considered urgent.
Skyview property manager Don Wilson, president of Blue Woods Management, fears the change will lead to more frequent shutdowns in gas service. "Con Ed understands its gas lines better than FDNY. So FDNY might shut down service while Con Ed wouldn't," he says. "The horse is out of the barn at that point. You can't undo it once it is shut down."
This article was updated Oct. 3 to reflect a comment by Con Ed spokesperson Allan Drury.
Adapted from "The Smell of Gas" by Kathleen Lucadamo (Habitat, September 2014)
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