Annual conference interrupted by gas explosion
By Kathleen Brady Shea, Managing Editor, The UnionvilleTimes.com
The 2012 four-day Conference and Exhibition of the National Sheriffs’ Association in Nashville touted its versatile location, a complex of dining, shopping, entertainment, and “late-night excitement.”
Attendees got their fill of the latter, according to Chester County Sheriff Carolyn “Bunny” Welsh.
Welsh, who attended the convention at the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center with Lt. John Freas and Deputy Harry McKinney, said they were having dinner Tuesday night about 8:15 when the glass of a nearby solarium started rattling and they heard an explosion.
“This gives new meaning to having a blast in Nashville,” she said.
Welsh said she could joke about the incident because about 5,000 people staying at the Opryland Hotel were safely and efficiently evacuated. “The timing was unbelievable,” she said, explaining that the area where the blast occurred had been crowded with people about five hours earlier.
Welsh said it probably helped that many of the evacuees were trained emergency responders. Besides sheriff’s departments, she said the conference draws U.S. Marshalls and representatives from the Federal Bureau of Investigations, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement.
Video from the scene, as shot by Welsh:
A preliminary investigation ruled out suspicious activity, Welsh said. Officials believe the explosion occurred because natural gas got into a steam line inside a mechanical room near an elevator.
Welsh, a Pennsbury Township resident who’s a member of the board of the National Sheriff’s Association, said she ended up spending Tuesday night at the Grand Ole Opry. She said she had to make an emergency trip to a drug store to get a cell-phone charger since hers was in the hotel and she needed to stay connected. “I need to remember to carry one with me,” she said. “You never know what could happen.”
The Opry, an iconic music venue that ranks as Nashville’s number-one attraction, bills itself as “world-famous for creating one-of-a-kind entertainment experiences for audiences of all ages.” Welsh can attest to the authenticity of that boast.
She said staff members set up free concession stands and conducted back-stage tours throughout the night. The hotel brought linens over, which were spread out on the pews of the Opry, which was once a church. Welsh said that while many of the thousands of displaced convention-goers managed to get some comfortable shut-eye, she had difficulty. “The vast majority were men,” she said, noting that many were snoring.
“It was quite an experience,” she concluded.