I'm not sure that's the most appropriate title for this post, but let's go with it. You might say this is a tale with a hidden public service message (or slightly explicit one). 'Tis a harrowing tale (or could have been).
This past weekend I had been out a little later than anticipated playing games with some friends. I got back to my apartment building around midnight, and when I unlocked the front door and stepped in, I was immediately struck by the strong odor of natural gas. We have gas stoves in our apartments, but I knew there was no gas line running through the front stairwell anywhere, and it was much stronger than a hint of gas where maybe someone had just started cooking. There was a brief moment of wondering what on earth I should do since it was midnight and I was fairly certain everyone else in the building was already asleep. I was also trying to remember all the things I'd ever learned about natural gas, like if it was lighter or heavier than air (thus would it rise or fall) and if it had any other side effects besides being explosive (none too insignificant a property, either). I determined if nothing else I should open the front windows to let some of the gas out, and I should not flip any light switches.
The next thing I did is never recommended, and had there been no one else in the building I might not have done it, but after letting some of the gas out of the stairwell I went searching for a source to what must be a leak. I moved very cautiously and did not flip any light switches and tried to avoid anything that might cause a spark (I do not know what the concentration needs to be before it ignites, but I can only imagine we were getting near that). There was too much of the smell in a large portion of the building, however, so after finding someone else awake in the building and asking if they smelled gas, too (looking back that seems rather silly, but I was beginning to second guess myself; after a while the smell almost seems to follow a person and goes to the head). They said they had noticed that, so I determined I needed to call someone. This all took probably much more time than it should have, but I had opened a few more windows in the building by now, so at least the concentration of gas in the building was going down. I called our campus watch number, they came and checked it out, and then used their calling procedure to call those who could appropriately respond to the situation. After several phone calls (by this time everyone we called was asleep), opening more windows and doors to create more ventilation, and determining that none of the gas lines in public places were leaking, and waiting, the head of facilities came over and woke all the residents to check each apartment for leaks (and I imagine at this time to make sure we were all still alive). The leak was found in one of the apartments, that resident was instructed to leave all the windows of the apartment open and the facilities head turned off the gas line in that apt and would call the plumber in the morning to fix it.
As all of these adventures concluded, and I crawled into bed at 3am, I reflected on the whole thing and realized just how dangerous that could have been. Had I already been home, already asleep as well, or had come home an hour or two earlier (the resident in the apt with the leak had noticed a smell around 9 or 10 but didn't know what it was), there would have been gas leaking all night and we likely would have either asphyxiated or exploded. Rather sobering thought, really.
So I conclude with the admonition: if you have any appliance or anything that uses natural gas in your home, be familiar with the smell (it is an added smell because natural gas is odorless by nature) (and this can be done, especially if you have a gas stove, by paying attention to the smell that comes out when you first turn on and ignite a burner) and take it seriously when it seems strong or otherwise more than you smell on a regular basis. It's great to cook with (and otherwise a useful fuel), but like most things, requires attention and responsibility.