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September 22. 2013 8:50PM

Company involved in Manchester diesel tank blast was fined in 2001

MANCHESTER — Two workers burned in a flash fire inside an underground diesel tank in Manchester this month — including one still battling for his life — worked for the same company that experienced a tank explosion that killed a worker in Kentucky in 2001, according to government records.

Kentucky officials fined Tank Tech, headquartered in Missouri, $125 for the above-ground gasoline tank explosion, which also left a second man with third-degree burns over 85 percent of his body, safety records show.

The explosion destroyed a nearby office building, blew out windows of several buildings and prompted the evacuation of more than 20 families in Hickman, Ky., on June 10, 2001, according to a a Missouri newspaper.

Monica Garcia's uncle, John Robeson, was killed in the Kentucky explosion. She said she was so angered by a Tank Tech official telling the New Hampshire Union Leader the Manchester fire was "the first time an event like this occurred," that she called Tank Tech.

"Not only had it happened before," she said in a phone interview from Georgia. "It took the life of my uncle."

Garcia, a teenager at the time of the accident, said she wasn't aware that the company had been fined $125 and that it had admitted no wrongdoing.

"I don't think that's even fair at all," she said. "What are they going to learn from a $125 ticket?"

Daniel Lowry, communications director for the Kentucky Labor Cabinet, which proposed the penalty, said Friday that penalties are "not based on the fact someone was killed. ... It's based on what the company did wrong or if the company did anything wrong."

According to Kentucky records, the company failed to take steps "to control all sources of ignition" while a gas storage tank was being purged of vapors prior to inspection and/or repair work. Had the accident happened today, the company would face a maximum $7,000 penalty, Lowry said.

Company spokesman Jonathan McNeeley, who made the initial comments, didn't return several phone messages.

In the Sept. 9 fire, a work light fell into the tank and onto a power roller used to spray a chemical mixture onto fiberglass in the tank, Manchester Deputy Fire Marshal Rick Clement said.

William Clark, an investigator with the New Hampshire Fire Marshal's Office, said his office typically looks at a company's safety record. He said he expects his office, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration and Manchester fire officials will compare notes, but he couldn't say when that would be.

The workers injured in the Manchester flash fire at the Mobil Kwik Stop, 1095 Hanover St., remain at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston as of late last week.

Donald Scott, 24, of Andrews, S.C., was in critical condition and unconscious, Clement said. "They say every day he's still living is a good sign," he said.

Andy A. Snow, 31, also of Andrews, had burns on his legs and was improving, he said.

Clement said his department's investigation showed a supervisor narrowly escaped injury, leaving the tank "within seconds" before the flash fire.

After reading about the Manchester fire, Cindy Taylor, Robeson's sister-in-law, said she was upset by McNeely's comments. She recalled the ferocity of the Kentucky explosion.

"The flash fire is what killed my brother-in-law in an up-ground tank," Robeson said in a phone interview from Missouri."We had a closed casket."

mcousineau@unionleader.com


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