Gas Leak at Hu Hu Kam Memorial Hospital Spurs Quick and Safe Response Kyle Knox

Kyle Knox

Gila River Indian News


On Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021 at 12 p.m., a gas line ruptured near the Hu Hu Kam Memorial Hospital facility, prompting emergency evacuations and a response by the Community’s Fire Department and Hazardous Materials Team.


The team was informed, that morning at a construction site near Building Seven, a trench collapsed on a one-inch natural gas pipeline causing the leak. Hospital staff were immediately alerted, and all hospital staff and patients were evacuated. The incident temporarily closed several departments and services, with all emergency services diverted to nearby emergency departments in the region.


No one was injured from the incident. “When gas accumulates underground or within buildings, there is significant potential for it to ignite and cause a fire or an explosion, so we had to take every precaution to eliminate that possibility,” said Jairus Pierce, Shift Commander for the Gila River Fire Department. “If that were to happen, the impact to the Community would be significant because HHK is such a critical piece of infrastructure. So protecting the lives of everyone and the infrastructure of HHK was everyone’s priority.”


The event prompted a “major incident” response, many of those who responded were members of the Community’s Type 3 Incident Management Team, who arrived to facilitate the transporting of patients, supporting the repair efforts, evaluated gas levels in and around the hospital, and provided clear lines of communication to the Community and GRIC leadership. The team consisted of members from the Gila River Fire Dept., Gila River EMS, Gila River Police Dept., Office of Emergency Management, and support by the Communications and Public Affairs Office.


Gila River EMS transported patients who had been in the hospital to safe locations in Sacaton or to surrounding medical facilities. Additionally, through mutual aid agreements, Sun Lakes and Casa Grande Fire Departments assisted by providing fire truck and manpower, moving into Fire Station 423 in Sacaton where they could respond to emergency calls in the Community during this time.


Southwest Gas fixed the issue within hours after the initial leak. However, monitoring gas levels above and underground and in the hospital was critical before reporting an “all clear.” The “all clear” signal was given at 4:20 p.m., by incident command, prompting a return of staff and patients with limited hospital services for the remainder of the day.


Unfortunately, gas lines were affected in Sacaton as part of the repair, leaving almost 500 residents without gas that evening.  Southwest Gas immediately began restoring gas to those residents, but the repair required relighting “pilot lights” for many customers. Going door to door lasted until the following day.


Despite the impact of homes without gas, Gila River Fire Department commended the departments that responded, specifically the Office of Emergency Management and its Mobile Incident Command Unit (MICU). The Unit provided space for the Fire Department and members of the Community’s Management Incident Team to effectively convene to assist with crucial decision-making and provide communication to the Community.