Decatur, IL – A pair of soldiers from Springfield’s 233rd Military Police Company of the Illinois National Guard found more than just snow and sheets of ice while helping out during recent relief efforts in Decatur.
Spc. Stephanie Stretch of Herrin and Sgt. Meghan Silveus of Springfield discovered a natural gas leak at a downtown residence that could have caused an explosion if it had gone undetected.
“It’s a good thing the soldiers found the leak,” said Lt. Steve Reason of the Decatur Fire Department. “It needed to be turned off, there was no doubt about that.”
Stretch and Silveus were among 250 Guard members who were called up earlier this month to help check on residents in Decatur and Macon County following the Nov. 30-Dec.1 storm that paralyzed parts of central Illinois. The soldiers went door-to-door to make sure residents were OK, and they gathered information on blocked streets and downed power lines.
Silveus, a 2002 graduate of Auburn High School, said the damage in Decatur was extensive, and she was glad the Guard was able to help.
“(Decatur) was a whole different world from Springfield,” Silveus said during an interview at Camp Lincoln on Wednesday. “(Springfield) got hit pretty hard by the storm, but when I got to Decatur, I couldn’t believe how much ice and damage there was.”
Silveus and Stretch discovered the gas leak Dec. 6 as they were checking on residents. Stretch noticed the smell of gas when she knocked on the front door, and the smell got stronger when the pair walked to the back of the house to check for downed power lines. Neighbors told the soldiers the home’s residents had left a few days earlier because of the storm.
The team of soldiers flagged down a police officer, who called the Decatur Fire Department.
Reason, one of the firefighters who answered the call, said there was an odor of gas around the outside meter, and there was also a strong smell of gas coming from the house.
The gas was turned off at the meter. A firefighter went into the house through a window and opened the locked doors to air out the house.
When the firefighter opened the front door, “gas poured out,” Silveus said.
Reason said electronic detectors indicated that the gas in the house at the time was not at a concentration where an explosion could occur. However, the situation could have changed if the leak had not been discovered.
First Sgt. John Gillette said the Guard members worked from about 5 a.m. to 8 p.m. while in Decatur, staying at the armory. On average, soldiers were in Decatur for about three days.
“We had an overwhelmingly good response from the citizens,” he said. “We had a lot of offers from people to take us into their homes – the ones who had power. We had all kinds of people cooking for us and doing all kinds of things trying to help us out.”