WATERVILLE — About 100 employees of Kennebec Valley Community Action Program were evacuated from four buildings on its Water Street campus Friday after an employee reported a gas odor, but firefighters who responded checked those buildings and area homes and detected no problems.

The KVCAP buildings, which include the Robert E. Drapeau Building where client services are housed, the South End Teen Center, and the transportation building and financial services building on the Raymond F. Richard campus, all are served by Summit Natural Gas.

Waterville fire Chief Shawn Esler said firefighters checked homes around the campus for propane tanks or any other source of propane or natural gas after a KVCAP employee reported the odor of gas and a hissing sound at 10:55 a.m. Friday.

Kennebec Valley Community Action Program offices and buildings were evacuated Friday following a report of a possible gas leak. Waterville firefighters responded to the scene, but found no leak. Morning Sentinel photo by Amy Calder

“Our meters are calibrated to detect natural gas or propane on a very minute level,” he said. “There were no traces of that found.”

The odor of sulfur was noticeable in some areas on the King Street side of the campus where many KVCAP employees who had been evacuated from the Drapeau building were standing as firefighters checked buildings. Esler said that sometimes the sewer system can create hydrogen sulfate gas and, depending on the atmosphere, a smell of sulfur.

“I’m not saying that’s what it was; I’m saying that’s a possibility,” he said.

Waterville police and Summit Natural Gas employees also responded to the scene, which is in the South End of the city. Esler said Summit responds to all reports of odors in the community that are suspected to be caused by a natural gas leak and Summit has appropriate maps, equipment and training to deal with natural gas leaks. If a leak is found, Summit works with the fire department to isolate, secure and prevent the levels from continuing, according to Esler.

“The entire fire service as a whole, when we have these types of calls, it takes a second to think about the response plans and make sure we respond in the safest manner that we know how to,” Esler said at the scene.

“I want to say how well KVCAP handled this particular incident. When we arrived, they had the buildings evacuated. They did an excellent job that far exceeded my expectations as a fire chief. They were completely evacuated on our arrival and provided us with sufficient evidence to do an investigation. Most of it was precautionary.”

KVCAP is an agency that works to help eliminate poverty and reduce the conditions or impact of poverty.

Suzanne Walsh, KVCAP’s chief executive officer, said the organization has an emergency protocol that requires immediate evacuation in such incidents and the protocol is really more related to fire situations.

“We’re developing a new protocol around what we do if somebody smells gas,” she said. “We’ve been talking, in our management team, about working with the fire department to make sure we have protocol for this situation.”

KVCAP, she said, has about 300 employees in its Waterville, Skowhegan, Augusta and Wiscasset locations, including at Educare Central Maine on Drummond Avenue in Waterville.

Communities have been responding to reports of gas odors with a heightened sense of concern following a propane explosion Sept. 16 at the LEAP agency in Farmington that killed a fire captain and injured six other people, including a LEAP employee who evacuated the building prior to the explosion and remains in critical condition.

Esler said before leaving KVCAP Friday that the hearts of Waterville firefighters go out to their counterparts in Farmington.

“We’ve been up there a few times,” he said. “It’s absolutely terrible. We have to carry on. We have to continue to do the job and we have to prepare for tomorrow. We do it in their memory.”


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