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Wellington gasoline leak cleanup gets national attention


WELLINGTON — Fire Chief Mike Wetherbee will discuss the community’s 116,700-gallon Sunoco pipeline leak in 2012 with oil and gas experts on April 8.

Wetherbee is scheduled to speak at the American Petroleum Institute’s annual conference in San Antonio, Texas. He will discuss best practices for emergency responses to gasoline leaks, such as the one that forced 70 people to evacuate from their Wellington homes on Jan. 12, 2012.

Wetherbee said he was asked to speak at the conference because Sunoco Logistics indicated that first responders in Wellington handled the situation well.

The leak, which occurred in a Sunoco Logistics pipeline, was discovered near the village’s maintenance garage. Although it occurred in a populated area, it did not leak into the Black River.

The cause of the gasoline leak was never released by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, which is still investigating the spill, according to the organization’s website.

Wetherbee said he believes that he will never know exactly what happened.

“When they took out the pipe, it was like a crime scene. They wrapped it up and took it immediately out of here,” he said.

Wetherbee said the situation was handled quickly and appropriately.

“There were a lot of things that went right in the beginning,” Wetherbee said. “There was early detection, the weather (was good) and the gasoline had somewhere else to go than into the village and storm drains.”

Wetherbee said first responders prevented the gasoline from igniting, which could have been disastrous.

“It probably would have decimated the entire area, including Brookside Mobile Home Park out there,” he said.

The Wellington Fire Department hopes to work with other first responders to improve communication during evacuations, he said.

Wetherbee said there were problems locating many residents who were evacuated due to the spill because those people did not leave contact information with rescue crews.

Wetherbee said he is looking forward to speaking at the conference.

“It’s an honor to go down there and be able to speak,” he said. “With what went down here, we learned a lot. We never want to experience it again, but we learned a lot.”

Contact Chelsea Miller at 329-7123 or cmiller@chroniclet.com. Follow her on Twitter @ChelseaMillerCT.

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