When we see flashing red emergency lights or hear about serious accidents the peak of our interest. Did someone die or get seriously hurt? Do I know them? Why did it happen?
We often begin to reach conclusions in our minds because of our past experiences or training. The boiler explosion that occurred in St. Louis last Tuesday is a great example. The explosion launched a boiler through the roof of a commercial building. Parts of that small boiler flew over 500 feet.
Three innocent people were killed and two are in critical condition as I write this article. Investigators were just beginning to review the boiler maintenance records. Odds are I know the causes already. Let’s get back to the causes later.
The St. Louis boiler explosion story very well could have taken place in Lincoln, Nebraska. We have similar water heaters, boilers, and pressurized vessels in our community. Unknown dangers lurk behind our walls and in our basements. It’s my “job” to expose these dangers.
Years ago, I read stories written by a Chief Engineer that was an expert in the operation of power plants. He investigated power house accidents and explained the causes. His stories increased my awareness and sparked my interest.
After training and testing, I attained Chief Engineer status through the National Institute for the Uniform Licensing of Power Engineers, Inc. I also maintain Master’s licenses for the Plumbing and HVAC trades in various jurisdictions and am a Doane University graduate. This article seemed necessary because of my past training.
Education challenges us to become more responsible. We tend to take personal “oaths” to protect and train others. If I do not share the knowledge of potential risks within my trades, then in many ways I will feel guilty if anyone dies or is injured in our community.
My background tells me the odds of the causes of the St. Louis boiler explosion were safety devices were bypassed or the medium-sized boiler was not maintained properly. The damage could have been worse.
I’ve stood inside of a 20 million BTU boiler. Imagine the damage that could be done if a large boiler would explode? An explosion from a boiler, water heater, or pressurized vessel can easily level homes or buildings.
Our biggest risks come from the untrained that know barely enough about what they are doing they become dangerous. They ignore developed safe practices designed to protect us.
I’ve seen shoddy maintenance practices in our community. The most common examples were water heaters that were eminent dangers. Some did not have pressure relief valves. One water heater had a capped-off pressure relief valve because it kept going off. After all, the pressure was too high! Either example could have allowed the pressure inside of the water heaters to reach dangerous limits and level those homes. The surrounding homes were at risk too.
Water heaters with properly installed pressure relief valves are relatively safe but need to be inspected after they are installed. Inspectors check for standard safety devices and other things too like gas leaks, carbon monoxide issues, and pressure risks. Get nervous if an installer talks you out of an inspection because they do not understand why inspections are important. Do they even have insurance to protect you if a catastrophe occurs?
The State of Nebraska requires annual boiler inspections on larger pressurized vessels rated under 199,999 British Thermal Units. All inspection covers are required to be removed to allow visual inspection. While preparing boilers for inspections, I’ve seen boiler low water cut-off safeties completely plugged because of a lack of proper chemical treatment for the boilers.
Odds are large boilers have true professionals operating them. The smaller capacity boilers are more of a risk because they are often ignored until they fail; especially boilers in homes. All boilers need regular maintenance.
True licensed professionals may cost more, but they are well worth the extra cost when they save lives, reduce energy costs, and increase our comfort. Equipment that is well maintained by licensed trained professionals reduces the risks dramatically.
Hopefully, this article provides new insight into hidden risks. I try to maintain more of an entertaining story with most articles, but this article needed to have a more serious tone because it is a fire, life, safety article.
Your life is important to me. As a personal favor, please take a responsible approach in making sure your boilers and water heaters are properly maintained.