D.C. officers at the 1st Police District are normally the ones responding to emergency evacuations. Yesterday, they were dealing with their own.
Police couldn't use their station house in the 400 block of Fourth Street SW after fumes from unused underground gasoline tanks sickened three police officers Wednesday, said Cmdr. Kim Dine. All three suffered nausea and were treated and sent home.
The fumes were probably caused by the recent heavy rains, which may have brought residual gasoline around two underground storage tanks to the surface, Dine said.
"It's inconvenient," Dine said, "but we are fixing the problem."
The tanks were once used to supply gasoline for police cars but have not been used since a 1998 mandate by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. That mandate required all sites with underground gasoline tanks either to close them or upgrade them because of chemical leakage into ground water. Police said they closed the gas tanks. Still, many gas tanks have residue.
Officers at the building yesterday said they began to smell strange odors Thursday. On Friday, the holding cell was evacuated, said Sgt. R.C.J. Davis. She was out in front of the precinct yesterday, training new officers and shaking her head about the situation. Police said they are not sure when the station will reopen.
"No one likes to be uprooted," Davis said. "I was surprised, but what can you do? It's better that they take care of the problem."
The fumes did not disrupt any police operations, said Sgt. Joe Gentile, a police spokesman. Some command operations have been shifted to a substation at Fifth and E streets SE. Other officers are working out of the Asian Task Force headquarters in Chinatown.
At the substation yesterday, Capt. Cory Sharkey said the 1st District's administrative staff was being accommodated.
"We are making do," Sharkey said. "You have to be flexible."
Police asked that the public call 911 for an emergency. All other callers to the 1st District can dial 202-727-1010.