Officials seek details after flash fire injuries at gas station
MANCHESTER — Two technicians severely burned in a flash fire inside an underground fuel storage tank remain in intensive care at a Boston hospital Tuesday while city fire investigators returned to the Hanover Street service station to review whether proper equipment and safety procedures were used.
Donald Scott, 24, and Andy A. Snow, 31, both of Andrews, S.C., suffered third-degree burns after an industrial work lamp accidentally fell off its mooring in to the tank, causing a spark to ignite the fiberglass, resin and another compound being used to reline the 10,000-gallon container about 1 p.m. Monday, Manchester Fire Chief James Burkush said Tuesday.
Snow got out of the tank on his own with burns mostly to the waist down. Co-workers and a witness pulled Scott from the bottom of the tank by hand using a harness and cable, the witness and fire officials said. Both men were airlifted to Massachusetts General Hospital.
Scott suffered third-degree burns over most of his body and was in critical condition; Snow was in stable condition, city fire officials said.
But a spokesman for their employer, Tank Tech Inc. of Blodgett, Mo., said both men are in stable condition at the MGH intensive care unit.
The two men were part of a crew of five hired to refurbish the underground diesel tank at Mobil Kwik Stop at 1095 Hanover St.
After speaking with Snow and the three other Tank Tech workers at the hospital, a city fire investigator was able to confirm the industrial work light ignited the flash fire, Burkush said.
"One worker actually saw the light fall in and looked in and saw the spark and then the big fire," Burkush said. The men doused the flames with two fire extinguishers.
"It was definitely an accident," the chief added.
But city fire investigators, working in conjunction with the state Fire Marshal's office, are examining the light more carefully and ran tests on the air exchange system to determine if it was operating properly to prevent the build up of flammable fumes, Burkush said.
"There are significant questions that remain about the process and the safety procedures and the safety practices that were involved. We're still looking into that," Burkush said.
All work being done on the site is suspended pending the conclusion of the investigation, he said.
Burkush said investigators also are trying to determine if Tank Tech is operating anywhere else in the state. One man who arrived at the Hanover Street station Monday identified himself as a Tank Tech employee currently working on a site in Salem.
Tank Tech spokesman said the company employs crews around the country and "couldn't really speak" to whether crews currently are working elsewhere in the state.
"I don't believe so. I think the work at that site (Salem) has been completed," spokesman Jonathan McNeeley said.
"At this point, our main concern is obviously for those technicians and making sure they have what they need...We are certainly cooperating with every official agency that is involved to determine the cause of the accident," McNeeley said.
Burkush said fire investigators took measurements inside the underground tank — which is 8-feet deep by 24-feet long. There also is 6-foot deep manway that allows workers access to the tank, making the tank's total depth 14 feet.
The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration and state Department of Labor also are involved in the inquiry.
McNeeley said none of the agencies indicated problems with equipment or procedures.
"We have been in business since 1985. This is the first time an event like this occurred," McNeeley said.
John Brewer, owner of Johnny B's Car Care across the street at 1004 Hanover St., helped the Tank Tech crew pull Scott from tank. He said the workers erected a tripod in the manway and intended to use it to winch Scott up with the cable. The tripod didn't work and the crew had to pull him out by hand, he said.