Guest Blogger: Deputy Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Safety Administrator and former fire chief Tim Butters
Fire Prevention Week was established to commemorate the devastating Great Chicago Fire of 1871 that killed more than 250 people. Since its first observance in 1922, the slogan for Fire Prevention Week has taken many shapes – from the straightforward “Help Prevent Fires” (1937); to “YOU Caused 1,700,000 Fires Last Year!” (1947); and this year’s “Have 2 Ways Out!” This week, PHMSA reminds you of another important safety message: “Call 811: Know What’s Below Before You Dig.”
According to the National Fire Protection Association, Fire Prevention Week slogans have evolved over the last 90 years, but the message has always been about education, prevention and safety. Most fires are preventable, and it is up to every one of us to keep our families and homes safe.
As a firefighter and former fire chief, I’ve seen firsthand how devastating fires can be. And in my role at PHMSA, I’ve also seen the devastation caused by excavation damage to pipelines. Sometimes these pipeline accidents result in fires, but they almost always put people and the environment at great risk and can come at a great cost both in terms of property disruption and dollars.
So in honor of Fire Prevention Week, I would like to remind you of another important safety message from PHMSA: “Call 811: Know What’s Below Before You Dig.” I encourage everyone, including emergency responders, excavators and backyard gardeners to remember this: digging is the number one cause of pipeline damage that results in a fatality or injury or property/environmental damage.
Most people don’t realize that there are more than 2.6 million miles of pipeline in our nation, and the odds are good that some are in or near your yard, not to mention utilities such as cable, water, gas, and electrical lines. While pipelines are the safest way to transport natural gas and hazardous liquids, they aren’t impervious to outside forces.
The bottom line is that, like fires, most pipeline incidents can be prevented. By calling 811 48 hours before digging, a utility technician will come out and mark the locations of pipelines and utility lines you should avoid--all at no cost to you.
We have the tools and the know-how to help extinguish fires and fix pipeline leaks, but we would much rather prevent them from occurring in the first place. This week, make sure you have working smoke detectors and develop a fire evacuation plan at home and at the office. But also tell your friends and neighbors to always call 811 before digging and learn more about pipeline safety.
Stay safe and remember: have 2 ways out and always know what’s below by calling 811 before you dig.
PHMSA develops and enforces regulations for the safe, reliable and environmentally sound operation of the nation's 2.6 million mile pipeline transportation system and the nearly 1 million daily shipments of hazardous materials by land, sea, and air.