Fire inspector Frank Woods, flanked by Mayor Pasquale Menna and Councilman Hazim Yassin, was honored for averting possible catastrophe at an apartment complex. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge.)
By JOHN T. WARD
A “tenacious” Red Bank employee won recognition from the borough council Wednesday night for efforts that officials said headed off a possible disaster at an apartment complex last month.
Code enforcement official and fire inspector Frank Woods, a 25-year borough employee, was on a routine call to inspect a unit at Madison Commons, on South Street, for a certificate of occupancy on March 18 when he smelled natural gas in the vestibule, according to Fire Marshal Tommy Welsh.
A real estate agent who was present for the inspection didn’t smell gas, and the apartment, which had been vacant for a month or more, turned out to be odor-free. But Woods continued to smell gas in the foyer, Welsh said.
Woods reached out to deputy fire chief Bobby Holiday and requested that he respond with a gas meter. Meantime, Woods checked with other tenants and inspected their units for gas leaks, finding none.
A first-floor resident told him she had smelled an odor for some time, but thought it might be rotting food left behind in the neighboring unit, Woods said. “She was keeping a spray can of air cleaner handy” to combat the smell, he said.
When Holiday arrived, he and Woods rechecked the three apartments with the detector and found no gas, though the common area tested positive. There were no readings in a utility room where a boiler and gas appliances were located, Welsh said.
The two proceeded to a crawl space where they began to get elevated readings of natural gas.
“They wind up crawling around this building until they finally find where the leak was,” Welsh told the audience at the council meeting.
New Jersey Natural Gas was called in, and it found readings of 2,700 parts per million of gas, where levels above 40 are considered unsafe, Woods said. The gas had become trapped in the crawlspace and was seeping through the floorboards, he said.
The source turned out to be a corroded gas supply line below a soggy piece of wood that had been installed in an attempt to deflect a water leak above it, he said.
Subsequent work by a contractor found more than 60 leaks in the supply lines underneath that building, Woods said, and the site’s property management company is reviewing all lines in the project. The affected apartments were briefly evacuated and did not have gas for cooking purposes while repairs were made, he said.
The discovery of the leak, leading to the discovery of more widespread issues, may have prevented an explosion that “could have been horrible for everybody in that complex,” Welsh said.
“Anybody who knows Frank knows he’s a tenacious guy,” he said. Had it not been for Woods’ doggedness, “we might not have known about the leak until we wound up on the news,” he said.
Woods, a lifelong Red Bank resident and former fire chief now in his 31st year as a volunteer fireman, said he “just happened to be lucky that day, finding something,” and credited the fire department, which he said is an under-appreciated for responding to numerous situations that the public never hears about.
“I just want to say to all the residents and business owners: you don’t realize how lucky you are with this volunteer fire department in this town,” he said.