Propane leak in La Verna reported to emergency department


Sign outside of La Verna Apartments

Grace Monk, Editor

On Saturday Nov. 5, La Verna residents were notified that the building would not have hot water over the weekend. Senior Nathan Janzen noticed the smell of propane nearby, and told the Lumen that “Outside of the building, I thought maybe it was the brewery, but as I entered the lobby, I knew what I smelled was definitely not the brewery,” stated Janzen. “It was propane.” 

  Residents were in the building at the time, but the smell had not been reported. Another resident, Marianna Zea, recalls noticing the smell during the day, but did not take action. “It wasn’t my first instinct,” said Zea. “I knew I smelled gas, but I thought the building had electric heaters.” The smell was strong enough to give Janzen a headache, which let him know the problem was serious. “I knew that if the smell was bad enough to give me a headache, I better figure out what’s going on,” stated Janzen. 

At 10:15 p.m., Janzen called the La Crosse Non-Emergency number to report the smell. He then helped dispatch locate the building and waited until they arrived. Two fire trucks were sent to La Verna and the fire department arrived with testing equipment. The crew moved through the building with their testing equipment but did not find any traces of gas.  

Hoping to get to the bottom of the cause, firefighters asked Janzen a series of questions. “They wanted to make sure they weren’t over here for no reason,” stated Janzen, “so they started asking me questions like, ‘Are you sure you smelled gas?’ and ‘Are you sure it wasn’t the brewery?’” Janzen assured the fire department that he smelled propane, urging them to continue their investigation.  

Firefighters checked the utility room on the first floor and a campus maintenance technician arrived to let them in. According to Janzen, the firefighters began checking the water heaters and quickly found the leak. “I believe the water heater leaking propane was off at the time they arrived and once they turned it on, they found the issue,” stated Janzen. The water heaters were turned off that night and remained off until the leak was fixed. 

The following day, residents found that their apartments did not have hot water. At 4:24 p.m., they received an email from Resident Assistant Easton Halverson stating that the issue was difficult to repair and would not be fixed until after the weekend. “I was confused and frustrated,” stated Zea; “it had just gotten really cold outside, so I was worried when we suddenly had cold water.” Despite her initial frustration, Zea felt relieved after learning about the leak. “[Janzen] made a smart decision, and next time, I know to do the same thing,” stated Zea. 

“As soon as the leak was reported we took immediate action to make sure everybody was safe,” stated Residence Life Area Coordinator, Joann Stacey. “That’s our top priority.”  Residence Life and Physical Plant staff members were aware of the inconvenience this caused and spent the weekend replacing the water heater. “We knew replacing that would take time but [Physical Plant] worked really hard to expedite the process,” said Stacey. Residents in La Verna had hot water again late Monday morning. Stacey believes this to be a one-time situation and shared that the water heaters are checked regularly to prevent future problems.  

Propane leaks are dangerous, even in small amounts. If a leak is suspected, it is important to take action immediately. According to AmeriGas, the main indictor of a propane leak is the smell, which typically resembles rotten eggs or skunk spray—the product of an additive used to protect consumers from the usually odorless gas. 

If students believe there is a gas leak on campus, they should immediately notify campus officials or call the local Non-Emergency line at (608) 782-7575.