With three communities in the Merrimack Valley reeling from a series of gas explosions Thursday that killed one person and injured more than 20 others, we called up Jennifer Mieth, public information officer for the state fire marshal, seeking some gas safety tips. Her answers, lightly edited:
What to do if you smell natural gas in your home
Mieth: "Leave the building immediately, notify other occupants, and get to a safe location. On your way out, don’t touch any light switches or use a landline. When you get outside, use your cellphone to call 911 and contact your utility."
Why you shouldn’t touch light switches or use a landline if you smell gas
"Anything that could cause a spark, even static electricity, could ignite an explosion in a gas leak. That could be a landline, light switch, candles, matches or other appliances. Also don’t turn on the hot water if you have a gas hot water heater. That could cause an explosion if you have the right mix of air and gas."
When to avoid starting the car
"If you smell natural gas and you have an attached garage, don’t start your car. It could trigger an explosion."
How often to get your heating system inspected
"Homeowners should have their furnaces checked and cleaned by a professional every year, to make sure they’re in good working order before winter. If you have some problems with your stove, like it’s not lighting right, that may also be a good time to have a professional come in and look at it."
Shutting off gas in your home
"Homeowners should know how to shut off their water and gas, just for general maintenance. Should a homeowner be shutting their own gas off? That depends on the situation, and what local public safety authorities are telling you to do. If there’s an evacuation order, we just want people to get out."
Why that "rotten egg” smell is your friend
"That chemical [mercaptan] is purposely added to natural gas, so any leak can be immediately detected by the unpleasant odor. Otherwise natural gas has no smell. So if you smell that odor, you should react as if you’re hearing a smoke alarm; get everyone out of the house and call 911."