• House explosion prompts fine, procedural change, Landscape company fined $5000 for gas explosion


    Damaged gas line led to explosion that killed Topeka woman

    The Kansas Corporation Commission on Wednesday approved a proposed agreement to fine one company involved in a fatal natural gas explosion and require another company to make changes.

    Lucinia “Lucy” Tolliver, 81, died as a result of a natural gas explosion at her home, at 1905 S.W. Navajo Lane. The explosion occurred Jan. 30, 2012, and Tolliver, a retired composing room employee of The Topeka Capital-Journal, died four days later after suffering severe burns.

    A KCC staff report filed in August determined N-Line Lawn Service was installing a sprinkler system in the yard of 1912 S.W. Arrowhead, directly behind Tolliver’s home, and accidentally caught a gas line owned by Kansas Gas Service with one of its machines, pulling the line 18 inches from its original location. The explosion happened about 88 minutes after the line was damaged at 10:10 a.m.

    In an open hearing Wednesday, the KCC, the state’s utility-regulating agency, concurred with an order fining N-Line $5,000 and with an agreement between KGS and the KCC staff, which would require KGS to make changes to its procedures but wouldn’t assess a fine.

    The complete text of the agreement wasn’t publicly available, but information posted after the KCC meeting said it would require KGS to amend its emergency plan, revise its training curriculum, instruct customer service representatives to tell excavators to call 911 if they strike a gas line, hold three training sessions for first responders over the next year, identify areas where gas mains and sanitary sewers are close, and report any acts of noncompliance to KCC.

    The August staff report indicated that N-Line workers didn’t immediately know they had damaged the line, but attempted to contact KGS after they smelled gas. The number an employee called was for locating gas lines under routine circumstances, not for emergencies, the report said — and the proper response would have been to alert first responders.

    The employee waited 17 minutes on hold with the wrong number, then called Kansas One Call, where a recorded message instructed him to call the utility directly. He then called a KGS emergency number he had in his truck and told KGS he could smell gas, but didn’t want to move his machine, which he thought was holding the pipe in place.

    KGS employees arrived on the scene 29 minutes after they were called and a total of 53 minutes after the pipe was damaged, the report said. A KGS first responder surveyed the damage and placed a call to his supervisor to ask for assistance repairing the damage. He then shut off the meter at 1912 S.W. Arrowhead and began taking measurements of underground gas concentrations, the report said. A KGS work crew arrived at 11:35 a.m., and the house exploded three minutes later.

    A technician working on an electric kitchen range in Tolliver’s home noticed the smell of gas about 11:10 a.m. and advised her to call KGS. The technician left about 11:30 a.m., the report said, and KGS has no record of a call from Tolliver’s home. Another neighborhood resident, downwind from the damaged line, called KGS and reported smelling gas about 35 minutes before the explosion, and a KGS serviceman was dispatched there.

    After the explosion, gas flow to the ensuing fire was cut off at 4:47 p.m., because KGS decided to use a more labor-intensive method of stopping the gas flow that would leave fewer customers without service during cold weather. That approach seemed reasonable at the time, the report said, but testing later revealed the delay could have placed other homes at risk.

    The report determined N-Line failed to call emergency responders when a gas leak became evident and didn’t have a valid notice of intent to excavate at the time the damage was done. The report determined N-Line should be fined $5,000.

    The report also faulted KGS because its emergency plan and employee training failed to provide adequate direction to preserve life and property in an emergency situation and recommended a $15,000 fine. It also recommended requiring KGS to amend its emergency plan, to have maps identifying where gas mains and sanitary sewers overlap for first responders, and to consider adding more valves to speed gas shutoffs. The provision related to sewers was included because the investigation after the explosion determined sewers were one possible way the gas could have entered the house.

    The line damaged dated to 1966, before modern gas safety regulations, the report said.

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