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New Protocol Will Put FDNY on All Gas Leak Calls

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Three months after a deadly natural gas explosion in East Harlem, a new protocol for the New York City Fire Department is in place to prevent a repeat, a protocol that comes as focus is once again directed at the potentially dangerous problems that stem from aging pipes and wires beneath city streets. NY1's Josh Robin filed the following report.

Before a March blast ripped apart a block in East Harlem, Con Edison received just one complaint of a gas odor. The New York City Fire Department wasn't called until it was too late.

That's changing.

"We want to make sure that when people smell gas, they report it," said Deputy Mayor Anthony Shorris. "They've been reporting it to Con Ed and National Grid. We want to them to make sure that they start by reporting it to 911, and we'll make the referral as appropriate and send a fire truck if that's the best way to respond quickly."

That likely means help will come quicker than Con Ed or National Grid can offer. It could also mean tens of thousands of new calls for firefighters without increased budget funding.

"We want them to be at a gas leak, where there is a gas leak, but the question here is whether we are sending them on wild goose chases and not dealing with the most serious emergencies," said City Councilman Daniel Garodnick of Manhattan.

The de Blasio administration and the FDNY said they can handle it.

Attention comes as federal safety officials still are determining what caused the blast, which killed eight people.

City officials, meanwhile, are taking a new look at the city's underground, that hidden network that people often don't think about until something goes wrong.

The gas pipe that lead to the explosion was more than 100 years old, but Con Ed officials said that age by itself isn't a concern.

"It's just one factor that goes into determining when to replace piping," said Edward Foppiano of Con Edison. "Diameters, pipe material, soil conditions, they're all factors."

Still, Con Ed and National Grid also said they're accelerating repair of old pipes, especially those made of cast iron.

"It's leak-prone," said Adam Forman of the Center for an Urban Future. "It's a material that's corrosive."

Another issue that is also is a safety concern is whether raw sewage must be dumped into waterways during heavy rains. Alarming some, city officials say yes. The practice will likely continue. An alternative is seen as too difficult and too expensive.

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