Friday, August 11, 2000

Hamilton explosion injures four

Firefighter says warning ignored

By Sheila McLaughlin and Earnest Winston
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        HAMILTON — A firefighter said city workers ignored his advice to shut down a leaking natural gas line they were replacing Thursday because it was too dangerous to continue working on it.

        Fifteen minutes later, the gas line at the intersection of Eaton Avenue and Washington Boulevard erupted about 1:30 p.m. into a fireball, injuring the four workers, two of them seriously.

        Acting Lieutenant Scott Helton said he checked for gas levels in the ditch after an employee at the Hambuco Federal Credit Union reported a strong odor of gas in the area.

        “There was a high amount. I told them I didn't feel comfortable getting any reading, that it was not a good sign especially when we're getting winds like this,” Lt. Helton told the Enquirer. “They said it was pretty normal.”

        Lt. Helton said the workers told him it was OK to leave. But he and two other firefighters decided to wait instead and shut down traffic.

        Then Lt. Helton said he saw a “large ball of fire” spew from the hole with four men were scattering from the blaze.

        One of the men ran toward the firefighters, his back engulfed in flames, officials said. Lt. Helton and firefighters Scott Baum and Dave Stork rolled the unidentified worker on the ground to extinguish his clothes.

        Injured were Henry Reid, 38, a maintenance crew leader from Hamilton, in serious condition, and Michael Peters, 42, a maintenance crew

        leader from Somerville, who were in good condition at the burn unit at University Hospital Thursday night. Jeffrey Neal, 37, an auto equipment operator, and Dennis Schneider, 39, a maintenance worker, were treated and released from Mercy Hospital Hamilton. Mr. Schneider and Mr. Neal are from Hamilton. All four worked in the Gas and Water Distribution Division of the Hamilton Department of Gas.

        City law director Hillary Miller said the workers were connecting an existing city gas main to a newly installed line. Lt. Helton said the men were using saws.

        Occupational Safety and Health Administration officials were at the scene Thursday to investigate. Ms. Miller said she could not confirm Lt. Helton's account nor his instructions to the city work ers.

        The blaze rerouted traffic, and workers and residents in the area were evacuated. The fire burned an hour before construction workers were able to shut off a gas main.

        “It was just massive flames coming out,” said Kendra Deaton, a front-line supervisor at Hambuco, who called 911 to report the smell of gas. “It was scary.”

        Glenn Rader, who works for Byrnes-Conway Co. in Carthage, said he had walked about 10 feet away from the hole when he saw flames shoot into the air.

        “There were four guys in the hole. A couple of them were on fire, and they just took off running,” said Mr. Rader, who was working on the project with the city employees. “They got out of there pretty quick.”

        The project started July 28.


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