By Jonathan Allen
NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York City's fire department will now respond to all reports of leaking gas, according to a report released by the city on Wednesday, a move that comes three months after a gas explosion leveled two buildings in Harlem and killed eight people.
The new arrangement, which will route all gas leak reports through the 911 system, is intended to improve response times.
The fire department's average response time to a non-fire emergency is less than 8 minutes from the time the call comes in, the report said. The average response time of Consolidated Edison, one of the city's two main gas utility companies, is between 20 and 25 minutes, according to the report.
The fire department will be able to disconnect any leaking appliances and evacuate buildings if necessary. Con Edison or National Grid, which between them manage more than 6,300 miles of gas mains and service lines in the city, will continue to send emergency teams to the scene to make any necessary repairs.
On the morning of March 12 this year, about 15 minutes elapsed between the first report of a gas leak in East Harlem and the explosion that destroyed two residential buildings. A team from Con Edison arrived shortly after the explosion.
Marti Adams, a spokeswoman for Mayor Bill de Blasio, wrote in an email that the fire department had already seen "an uptick" in calls about gas leaks following the Harlem explosion. "So we've already seen a culture change," she wrote.
New Yorkers have previously been advised to call their utility company or 311, the city's non-emergency services number, to report a gas leak, Adams said. The fire department only responded to the most serious incidents.
Allan Drury, a spokesman for Con Edison, said the utility had collaborated with the city on the changes.
"The Fire Department is best equipped to respond to these calls the fastest and to protect people and property," he wrote in an email. "But investigating the source of a leak often takes the skills of qualified personnel from the gas utility."
The report released on Wednesday was written by the city's Underground Infrastructure Working Group, and warned that the city's gas infrastructure is "aging and increasingly fragile."
The report also discusses other proposals to repair and upgrade the complex tangle of gas lines, water and sewer pipes, electricity cables, steam lines and telecommunications lines buried just below the city's asphalt.
(Editing by Jim Loney)