BLUEFIELD — Four Bluefield firefighters were honored at the City Board of Directors meeting last week for their work in avoiding a potential disaster recently in Downtown Bluefield.
Fire Chief Adrian Conner, Lt. Brandon McKinney, Lt. Robert Stevenson and firefighter Jeremy Fox were recognized for their rapid response, quick thinking and professionalism.
City Manager Dane Rideout told the board of the incident, which occurred on the morning of May 27 when black smoke erupted from a manhole on Bland Street and three explosions were heard.
“We were not sure what it was,” he said, and that created a serious concern from a public safety standpoint.
“What we have since found out is that a surge of electrical power runs through the city (underground),” he said. “It is a very old wiring system that has inline fuses and one of those fuses cooked off and started a fire.”
But at the time, no one knew what was happening.
“These guys (the firefighters) showed the professionalism of our fire department,” he said. “They did all the right things.”
Rideout said he wants to make sure the public is aware of how they responded to a situation that included an explosion and fire in one of the underground vaults only 2 1/2 to 3 feet away from the main gas trunk line that feeds the downtown area.
“They quickly assessed the situation, which had 480 volts going through these electrical lines and what you can’t do immediately is put water on it,” he said. “To control the situation, they closed down the block and started evacuating folks that were downtown.”
Rideout said evacuating the downtown area is not an easy task because of so many access points and the nearby by West Virginia Manor that houses many people whose mobility is limited.
“When you start shutting down power in that place you have to have plan in place,” he said. “You guys were all over it.”
Rideout said the firemen continued the good work during the entire crisis.
“I want to commend you especially for taking charge of the situation,” he said. “Not only did you take control of a very scary situation, you brought in the right folks.”
That included AEP, Bluefield Gas and a team from Blacksburg to concentrate on the underground electrical system “to get that power off so we could eventually put the fire out.”
They evacuated the entire downtown area, working closely with the Bluefield Police Department and bringing in the Green Valley and Bluefield, Va. fire departments.
“It was a very serious situation that could have gone in a different direction,” he said. “I want to commend you guys … how you handled that situation.”
Rideout said the incident made him about as “nervous” as he has been.
“We did not know what to expect for about 30 minutes,” he said. “But you guys did a phenomenal job and I want to recognize you in front of the board of directors as well as the public on the job you guys did.”
Rideout said the city also appreciates all the utilities involved.
“Bluefield Gas was able to bleed the main trunk line,” he said, adding that AEP was also a “big help” because the power had to be cut off in order to get the fire out. “It was really a bad situation.”
Rideout said one result of the near catastrophe is a plan that is now being worked on to have evacuation drills downtown.
“We need to go through all of those mental gymnastics (to have as effective plan in place as possible),” he said, and make it work.
The Bluefield Fire Department, Police Department, Public Works “all did a great job,” he said.
— Contact Charles Boothe at email@example.com.