Articles Posted in FIre and Explosions

A huge win for the residents of Merrimack Valley occurred through a plea agreement announced in February involving one of the state’s leading energy companies. Colombia Gas of Massachusetts was ordered to pay a $53 million criminal fine for violating the Pipeline Safety Act, causing a series of natural gas explosions in the Merrimack Valley including Lawrence, Andover, and North Andover in 2018. After a long wait, residents harmed by the explosions were finally able to hold the utility accountable for its actions.

The explosion’s killed 18-year-old Leonel Rondon when a chimney collapsed on his car in a friend’s driveway. 2 dozen more were injured requiring hospital care including two firefighters. More than 100 homes caught on fire and over 8,000 people were displaced.

$53 million is the largest fine ever imposed for a violation of the Pipeline Safety Act and is over two times the profits earned by the state’s Gas System Enhancement Plan program between 2015 and 2018. The full payment is due by July 23.

The company took full responsibility for the explosions and plead guilty to a federal felony. Its parent company, NiSource Inc., was ordered to sell off its subsidiary. It reached an agreement with Eversource in mere hours to sell the company for $1.1 billion. NiSource agreed to forfeit any profit it earned from the sale and implement safety recommendations from the National Transportation Safety Board. The plea agreement also called for a three-year probation during which the company will be closely monitored for compliance with federal and state safety regulations. The probationary period will end when the sale is complete.

The deal still requires approval of the State Department of Utilities and the U.S. Department of Justice. The Department of Utilities has since opened a separate investigation and could eventually impose its own multi-million-dollar penalty on Columbia Gas.

The cause of the accident was determined to be over-pressurized gas lines, improper monitoring of pressure sensors, and old piping on the company’s South Union Project in South Lawrence. As a result, high pressure gas flooded the neighborhoods and caused multiple explosions.

The company knew of the disastrous potential of these gas lines evidenced by an internal memo dating back to 2015. The memo indicated that executives knew of failure to monitor gas lines, saying over-pressurization could lead to a “catastrophic event.” Federal authorities posit that Columbia Gas exhibited careless disregard for the community resulting in cutting corners and leading to this disaster.

Lawrence Mayor Dan Rivera hopes the money can be used to help families in the affected communities. “It is clear, now more than ever, that the people of Lawrence and North Andover would have more use for this money than the federal government,” Rivera said. Most of the money is set to go to the Justice Department’s Crime Victims Fund, providing support to victims of many crimes across the country. Continue reading

If you lived, owned property or owned a business in Lawrence, Andover or North Andover, Massachusetts on September 13, 2018, you may be entitled to some of a $143 million settlement between the former Columbia Gas company, which was responsible for a series of explosions that rocked those communities and directly caused one death. If you are interested in applying for settlement money, contact an attorney from Altman & Altman LLP right away.

Columbia Gas pleads guilty, pays historic fine

On September 13, 2018, over-pressured gas lines forced high-pressure gas to flood into the distribution systems of various Columbia Gas customers’ neighborhoods, which eventually led to a series of large explosions.

An investigation revealed that the company failed to account for critical pressure sensors while replacing old cast iron pipes in Lawrence. It also showed the company was aware that its lackadaisical actions could potentially cause fires and explosions, but continued to cut corners anyways. They also didn’t keep adequate records and hired inexperienced, unfit workers for jobs.

After a series of court proceedings, Columbia Gas has now formally admitted guilt to charges that it violated the federal Pipeline Safety Act, which directly led to a large number of explosions that damaged dozens of homes and businesses and personal property. The company, as a result, will have to pay the largest criminal fine ever imposed for breaking such a law – $53 million.

In total, the class action lawsuit that resulted from the incident amassed to $143 million between Columbia Gas and the thousands of individuals affected by their reckless negligence. Some of that will have to go to court and legal fees ($26.1 million), but a large portion of money is available to those who were directly or indirectly affected.

Columbia Gas, as a result of the penalty, will no longer exist. Their parent company, NiSource Inc., was forced to sell the business, which was bought recently by Eversource. Any profits from the sale went to the federal government. The final result of the process, as proclaimed by U.S. attorneys, was a resounding message to public utilities companies that putting profits over the safety of their customers will result in severe punishments and consequences.

How to access the settlement money

Accessing money from a class action settlement – even when you have a solid claim to receive that money – is anything but a straightforward process. To ensure that you are getting everything that you are entitled to receive, the best course of action is to consult with an experienced attorney well versed in navigating class action settlements.

Attorneys at Altman & Altman LLP will be able to assess how you were affected and figure out how much money you should be entitled to, and then work with you on the process of filing paperwork to obtain the settlement money. Our attorneys will be with you every step of the way to ensure that no step is forgotten and no mistakes are made, which could potentially jeopardize you receiving your settlement money to the degree that you’re entitled to or affect the timing in which you receive the money. Continue reading

Multiple natural gas explosions killed a teenager, injured more than two dozen, and set 39 homes ablaze in three Boston-area towns last week. Entire neighborhoods evacuated their homes as officials scrambled to prevent more explosions from occurring. State police urged residents served by Columbia Gas in Andover, North Andover and Lawrence to leave their homes at once.

“It looked like Armageddon, it really did,” said Andover Fire Chief, Michael Mansfield. “There were billows of smoke coming from Lawrence behind me. I could see pillars of smoke in front of me from the town of Andover.”

A Lawrence man was killed when the chimney of an exploding house landed on his car. Leonel Rondon, 18, was pronounced dead at a Boston hospital that evening.

Approximately 8,600 Columbia gas customers are affected by the gas leak.

The utility company issued a statement early Friday morning, announcing that its crews will visit each and every one of the 8,600 customers to turn off gas meters and perform safety inspections.

”Additional support is being provided by crews from several affiliated Columbia Gas companies and other utilities. We expect this will be an extended restoration effort, and we will work tirelessly to restore service to the affected customers.”

Gov. Charlie Baker said it could be weeks or months before the investigation turns up any answers.

“This is still very much an active scene,” said Baker. “There will be plenty of time later tonight, tomorrow morning and into the next day to do some of the work around determining exactly what happened and why.” A MA personal injury attorney can help you determine how to proceed if you’ve been injured due to the negligence of another.

What Caused the Explosions?

According to Andover Police Department Lieutenant Eddie Guy, officials think over-pressurized gas lines caused the fatal blasts.

Since 2010, Columbia Gas has had to pay $100,000 due to seven violations, including improper pressure testing, inadequate gas standards, and failure to follow procedures and federal safety regulations for pipelines.

Aging Pipelines

Apparently, Columbia Gas knew about the problems with its gas lines for quite some time. The company filed a petition with the Department of Public Utilities in April to request help with aging infrastructure. The three towns involved in Thursday’s explosions were all mentioned in the April petition.

“Replacing leak-prone infrastructure is a leading priority,” wrote the utility in April. “However, it will take a number of years to eliminate the aging pipe from the gas distribution system.”

Dan Rivera, Lawrence’s Mayor, had harsh words for Columbia Gas in a news conference last week, saying the utility company was “last to act.” He went on to say that he believed the delayed response was because the company didn’t want to “foot the bill.”

But Steve Bryant, president of NiSource’s Columbia Gas unit, rejected any accusations that the company failed to respond quickly.

“There’s no one else who could have acted on this more rapidly than we did,” said Bryant.

Massachusetts isn’t the only state to experience NiSource explosions. Since 2007, the company has had a minimum of five pipeline explosions, in Louisiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, and West Virginia. Continue reading

A massive fire destroyed a 264-unit luxury apartment complex in Waltham Massachusetts  last weekend. The 10-alarm blaze came only weeks after a similar fire destroyed a Dorchester apartment complex that was also under construction. The level of destruction – and the speed with which the fire spread through these buildings – has people questioning the safety of wood construction. Both buildings had wood frames, and both buildings were destroyed within a few hours.

When Waltham Mayor Jeannette McCarthy was asked by a reporter whether she thought wood-frame construction should be permitted in MA, she said, “I really don’t believe so when it’s that size.” McCarthy went on to say that, “Within three hours, the whole building {in Waltham} was down.” She says she never supported having such a large complex in such a densely-populated area in the first place. Although wood construction is legal, McCarthy doesn’t think it’s safe. “It’s the cheap way out. And quite frankly, I thank god nobody got killed. They’ll say ‘oh, we can do this.’ Yeah you can, it’s whether you should be doing it,” she said.

In response to the apartment fires, Waltham city councilor Robert Logan is asking the state to take a closer look at the hazards of wood construction in larger building projects. “I’m not an expert in building, but I do know this. I haven’t seen any steel frame and concrete buildings go up in flames like a box of matches,” he said. But according to MA fire marshal Peter Ostroskey, wood-frame construction is perfectly safe once the building is completed; it’s during the building process – before the complex is fitted with sprinkler systems and smoke alarms – that it’s vulnerable to fire hazards. “We believe, ultimately, it is a safe type of construction to house people once it’s completed. It’s through that construction process these kinds of accidents can happen,” said Ostroskey. Further, wood-frame construction is legal in every state.

The Dorchester blaze destroyed a wood-frame complex near the Ashmont MBTA station on June 28. The cause of the Waltham fire remains under investigation. A MA injury lawyer can help you determine how to proceed if another’s negligence has caused you harm. Continue reading

Every year in Massachusetts, hundreds of gas line accidents are caused by contractors, construction workers, and utility companies. In addition to being extremely dangerous, these accidents are costly and can lead to closed roads and other problems. In 2015, an explosion in Springfield injured 18 people and damaged 42 buildings when a utility worker accidentally hit a high-pressure gas line. Unfortunately, these accidents occur with relative frequency. Although most incidents are contained, larger explosions can result in serious injuries and fatalities.

WWLP 22News launched an investigation into these accidents, reviewing state records and interviewing contractors and utility companies. The findings were shocking – between November 2012 and December 2015, a total of 1,434 gas line accidents were reported. That’s an average of more than one accident per day. Outside of Boston, Springfield and Chicopee had the highest reported number of accidents, with Springfield registering 48 and Chicopee registering 50. “There’s so many roads in Chicopee that are under construction, and more work being done, there’s more of an inherent chance that something might get hit,” said Mark Galerneau, Chicopee’s Fire Captain, “If the contractor is doing their due diligence and do what they’re supposed to do I think they can minimize the problems.”

The problem is, employers don’t always do their due diligence, and workers can suffer the consequences. If you have been injured due to employer negligence, it is in your best interest to consult with a MA work injury lawyer as soon as possible. You may be entitled to compensation for your injuries.

Hundreds of Violations Discovered

According to state records, adequate precautions were not taken in 522 of the reported gas line accidents, and the lines were incorrectly marked or not properly maintained in 413 of the accidents. And in many cases, Dig Safe was never called. Dig Safe is a communication network that exists to notify utility companies when excavation work will be performed near their installations, and state law requires that individuals and companies performing excavations call Dig Safe prior to beginning work. Although Dig Safe training is not mandatory, following established laws is. Fines for violating these laws include:

  • First offense: $1,000
  • Second or subsequent offenses within a 12-month period: $5,000 to $10,000

Follow OSHA Regulations to Avoid Gas Line Explosions

The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) has established excavation requirements to protect workers from accidentally causing damage to underground gas lines. Prior to beginning any type of excavation, workers should:

  • Establish the location of underground gas lines.
  • Contact appropriate utility companies or property owners to establish exact location of underground gas lines.
  • If utility companies or property owners do not respond to the request within 24 hours, workers may proceed with caution with the assistance of detection equipment.
  • Use a safe and acceptable method to determine the exact location of gas lines.
  • When the gas line is located, it should be protected, supported, or removed as deemed necessary for the protection of workers and the local area.

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Many sports fans remember the tragedy shortly after the Fourth of July last year involving Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul.  At a holiday cookout in his hometown of Deerfield Beach, Florida, Pierre-Paul and his friends were celebrating the day by setting off $1,100 worth of fireworks for the whole neighborhood.  They had passed several hours enjoying the firework show and decided they would call it a night.  One friend, however, pointed out that there were only a few fireworks left, so they might as well set off the last few, right?  Pierre-Paul grabbed one of the last fireworks and attempted to light the fuse seven times to no avail as the wind kept blowing out his lighter.  Pierre-Paul stated in an interview with Sports Illustrated that he remembered thinking Let me try one more time… The firework finally ignited and immediately there was a deafening BOOM and a blinding green light that witnesses say engulfed Pierre-Paul.  The firework had exploded in his hand.  Pierre-Paul was in shock.  He had been setting off his own fireworks for his neighborhood since he was 15 years old, and this kind of accident had never occurred.  After this accident, Pierre-Paul had to endure 8 surgeries total and a skin graft in an attempt to make his hand as operational as possible.  Several of the bones in his fingers needed to be removed, and his hand is visibly deformed.  He has since returned to the sport, but his returning season has been underwhelming when compared to his seasons before his accident.

This is a case in point as to how dangerous lighting fireworks can be, and with the Fourth of July right around the corner, it is essential that we all take precautions to prevent such accidents from occurring.  According to the American Pyrotechnics Association (APA), more than 14,000 fireworks displays take place in the U.S. every fourth of the July.  The APA also estimates that backyard fireworks have more than doubled between 2000 and 2007, reaching 238 million pounds of fireworks.  “Backyard fireworks” are common but are extremely dangerous, even to those who have been setting them off for years.  Most people do not completely understand the potential risks they take when using consumer fireworks.  According to the National Fire Protection Association, U.S. emergency rooms treated an estimated 11,400 people for firework related injuries in 2013, 55 percent of these injuries being to the extremities and 38 percent to the head.  Typically, rates of firework related injuries are highest among infants and teenagers.  Males are also more likely to be injured by fireworks than females.  However, it is important to remember that anyone can be injured by fireworks, even observers at a town firework show.  There are precautions you can take in order to prevent severe injury while using fireworks.  These safety tips include:

  • Make sure fireworks are legal in your area before buying or using them.

In 2014, a deadly blaze in the Back Bay killed two firefighters and injured several others. The house fire, which was unintentionally caused by welders working at an adjacent building, quickly grew out of control due to high winds. Last week, Joseph Finn, Commissioner for the Boston Fire Department, held a press conference to release the results of an investigation conducted by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). According to the NIOSH report, the 2014 accident was a result of a “perfect storm” of problems. Contact a Boston Personal Injury Lawyer Today.

The two firefighters killed in the Back Bay fire were 43-year-old Lt. Edward Walsh and 33-year-old Michael Kennedy. NIOSH’s report criticized the fire department for lack of training and inadequate staffing, both of which may have contributed to the accident’s devastating outcome. NIOSH also attributed the tragic outcome to high winds and the fact that firefighters were not notified in time. Several windows and doors were open at the time of the blaze, which allowed high winds to blow into the open spaces causing a backdraft. Fire consumes oxygen. If a fire has consumed all oxygen within a space and more oxygen suddenly becomes available (through an open door, window, or other opening), the explosive reaction is called a backdraft.

According to Finn, “People were literally blown off their feet.” Adding to the unfortunate events, water was cut off to the house when the fire burned through the hose lines.

The NIOSH report included a review of contributing factors, as well as several proposed fixes to prevent similar catastrophic events in the future. In response to the criticism from NIOSH, Finn said, “I’m OK with the critical part. I don’t take offense to it.” However, he also said that the department had recognized the need for additional training and had devoted more time to training in the two years preceding the fire than in the previous 10 years.

Not the First Time

Multiple high-profile cases in recent years have brought the Boston Fire Department under fire.

  • In 2009, a fatal fire truck crash was blamed on inadequate training when a BFD firefighter slammed into a building on Huntington Avenue.
  • Multiple fire trucks were cited for faulty brakes and other parts in 2009, resulting in several trucks being pulled out of service and the fire safety chief’s termination for absenteeism.
  • The flawed tactical decisions of BFD supervisors were to blame for the death of two firefighters in a 2007 West Roxbury restaurant blaze. Their actions resulted in a backdraft that sent a giant fireball through the building.

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A gas explosion inside of a New Braintree home has left one man seriously injured and investigators looking for more answers. At approximately 1:10 PM Wednesday afternoon, a fire occurred when a contractor was installing a propane-fueled furnace at a New Braintree residence, according to reports provided by a spokeswoman for the state fire marshal by the name of Jennifer Mieth.

Law enforcement officials responding to the scene have stated the preliminary investigation into the matter has provided them with a probable cause for the explosion. Based on the initial findings, investigators believe the fire was started when leaking propane became ignited by the hot water heater pilot. It was at this time that the explosion occurred, seriously injuring the contractor who had been tending to the furnace at the time. The man, who has yet to be identified by police officials, was airlifted by a medical hospital to a Boston-area hospital to receive treatment for his wounds. The nature and severity of his injuries was not made immediately available. Fire marshal spokeswoman Jennifer Mieth also stated that there was no one else inside the home located on 791 Wine Road in New Braintree at the time of the explosion and that with the unfortunate exception of the contractor, no one else had been injured at the time of the accident. Continue reading

Do you have a carbon monoxide monitor in your home? What about your vacation home? In the wake of a carbon monoxide related accident that has left four young people dead—it might be something you need to consider more seriously.

Four young residents of Massachusetts were staying at a family vacation home in Byron, Maine at the Coos Canyon Campground when they were discovered to be unresponsive on Friday night, July 17th. According to preliminary reports by investigators who arrived on scene, the residents visiting the cabin plugged a refrigerator into a backup generator located in the basement of the home and sometime after that, they all went to sleep. This occurred on Tuesday night—and it is presumed that the four victims passed away sometime during that night due to the poisonous, undetectable gas that escaped from the generator. Police responding to the call said that they could not immediately find a carbon monoxide detector anywhere inside of the cabin. They went on to say that if there had been a monitor located anywhere inside the home, it very likely would have saved their lives.

The four victims have been identified as 21 year old Brooke Wakelin from Attleboro, Massachusetts and her boyfriend, 23 year old Keith Norris also from Attleboro, Massachusetts. As well as 18 year old Matthew Wakelin, brother of victim Brooke Wakelin, and his 22 year old friend Deanna Lee Powers, both of whom are from Mansfield, Massachusetts. The father of Brooke and Matthew Wakelin, whose family owns the cabin, made the heartbreaking discovery on Friday when he made the trip up to Maine to find out why he had not heard from his kids since their arrival on Tuesday. Upon entering the residence, Mr. Wakelin discovered the bodies of his daughter Brooke and her boyfriend Keith in an upstairs bedroom, as well as the body of their pet beagle as well. He searched the downstairs bedrooms of the residence and further discovered the bodies of his son Matthew and his friend Deanna in separate rooms. Since the cabin did not have any electricity (which is what led the four victims to use the backup generator in the first place) Mr. Wakelin jumped onto a four-wheeler vehicle and drove immediately to a nearby cabin where he telephoned local police. Continue reading

The tragic deaths of two young boys from Lawrence several weeks ago, caused by a fast-moving electrical fire in their family’s apartment, marked the 47th and 48th fire fatalities in Massachusetts this year. With the first wave of winter weather this weekend, more and more residents are beginning to bundle up and turn on their homes’ heat and wood stoves. While residential fires naturally rise during this part of the year, often more common than fire emergencies are non-fire carbon monoxide emergencies. At Altman & Altman, we’d like to send out a reminder to all residents of the steps they can take to prevent such a tragic accident from occurring in their homes.

Facts and Statistics

Currently in Massachusetts the number of deaths caused by fire-related accidents, stands at 48. According to the National Fire Protection Association, the leading causes of residential fires include:

– Appliances and equipment; including those used for cooking and heating, washing machines and dryers, air conditioners and fans, and more.
– Arson and juvenile fire setting; children playing with fire and intentional fires – Candles – Chemicals and gases; natural gas and gases that might cause spontaneous combustion – Faulty electrical wiring – Holiday decorations including Christmas trees and holiday lights – Smoking materials (i.e.; cigarettes, hookah, etc.)
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