By Matt Nauman
A vacant two-story building on Rio Street in Red Bluff has been a busy place lately. On March 3, firefighters showed up late at night, punched holes in the roof and practiced rescues. This week, police SWAT teams swarmed the facility as they practiced rescuing hostages from behind locked doors.
It’s all part of emergency response training courtesy of PG&E, which is allowing local authorities to use a now vacant building for their exercises. On March 3, Red Bluff and Tehama County fire personnel ran multiple search-and-rescue operations at the facility. They also cut holes in the building’s roof and ceiling, practicing what they call “vertical ventilation” drills.
“It is difficult for our department to find actual structures where we can conduct this type of training, especially the actual cutting of a commercial building roof,” said Jon Bennett, Red Bluff Fire Department training officer. “This opportunity given to us by PG&E enhances our ability to protect lives and property in our community.”
The Tehama Inter-Agency SWAT team used the building for exercises on March 24. “It affords the team the ability to conduct realistic training in a real world environment,” said Red Bluff Police Lt. Kyle Sanders in a press release. That training was covered in the Red Bluff Daily News.
The facility is the former Cinderella Motel, situated near the Highway 36 bridge over the Sacramento River. PG&E purchased the motel in 2010 as part of an environmental remediation project. A manufactured gas plant (MGP) operated at this site many years ago.
From the mid -1800s to the mid-1900s, before natural gas was available as an energy source, MGPs existed throughout California and the United States. These plants used coal and oil to produce gas for lighting, heating and cooking.
The former Red Bluff MGP operated from 1874 to 1947. PG&E acquired the plant in 1919 and operated it until it closed. All MGP equipment was removed by 1949. PG&E sold the property in 1959, and a motel was built there in 1962.
PG&E, under the oversight of the California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC), is voluntarily working to investigate and remediate environmental impacts from this former plant. Tests were done in 2009 and 2010 to better understand site conditions there. Data collected indicated that soil and groundwater underneath the site have been affected by historical gas plant operations.
Importantly, direct contact with any gas plant residues is unlikely since they are underground and buildings and asphalt cover the property.
PG&E continues to work with DTSC on its cleanup plan, which will be submitted later this year and available for public comment. Remediation is expected to begin in mid-2012, and the former motel buildings will be removed. Until then, PG&E is making the site available to local authorities for training.
Environmental stewardship is a key value for PG&E, and the company takes responsibility for its past practices. Information about PG&E’s former MGP sites, including the one in Red Bluff, can be found on its website.