2nd Worker Dies From Friday Plant Fire - WSMV News 4

2nd Worker Dies From Friday Plant Fire

Posted: Updated: May 27, 2011
GALLATIN, TN (WSMV) -

Two employees have now died from injuries received in a fire last week at a Gallatin factory, the third and fourth deaths at the Hoeganaes Corp. facility following three incidents this year.

 

 

Vanderbilt University Medical Center spokeswoman Jennifer Wetzel said Eric Hulsey, 29, died on Tuesday evening and Rick Lester died Wednesday morning. Co-worker Fred Tuttle remains in critical condition. Two others hurt Friday had only minor injuries.

 

"At this incredibly sad time in our business, our thoughts and prayers are with Eric and Rick and their families," Vice President of Human Resources Mike Mattingly said in a Wednesday interview.

 

Mattingly has been in Gallatin since last week, when he attended the funeral of an employee who was injured in a January flash fire and only succumbed to his wounds recently.

 

That accident also killed another worker. And a March accident caused a fireball that injured another worker.

 

Mattingly said Wednesday that production at the plant was shut down after the most recent accident and will remain that way until the company completes what he called "a comprehensive safety review" of the entire facility, expected to last about two weeks.

 

Gallatin Assistant Fire Chief Tommy Dale has said Friday's fire was caused by a gas leak. Both the Tennessee Occupational Health and Safety Administration and the U.S. Chemical Safety Board are investigating.

 

The Chemical Safety Board said during a briefing Wednesday that metal dust in the air exploded in the two previous fires, and that metal dust may have been a factor in the latest fire, as well as a possible hydrogen gas leak.

 

Plant Fined More Than $42,000 For Violations

 

TOSHA said Hoeganaes Corporation was fined $42,900 on May 23 for 12 standards violations related to the January incident. The largest fine included in this was for $7,000 because of 4 inches of iron dust accumulated on equipment and floors. Hoeganaes has 20 days to contest the charges.

 

Officials said what happened Friday was a different type of fire from the previous two that occurred this year, but they don't know yet how the fire started.

 

Hoeganaes Corp. released a statement that said its "investigation is ongoing but it so far suggests no link to previous incidents that occurred at the plant earlier this year. The company will continue to work to better understand the circumstances surrounding this incident. At this time, our thoughts remain with our injured colleagues and their families.”

 

Investigators aren't yet calling it a flash fire or an explosion, just a fire.

 

Mattingly said Hoeganaes is determined to make sure their employees are safe and incidents such as this worry the entire company.

 

A four-person investigation team from the U.S. Chemical Safety Board is deploying to the site. CSB investigators said combustible metal dust was involved in the previous two fires, so they will look to see if dust also played a role in this latest fire.

 

The plant produces atomized iron powder for industrial customers and employs about 180 people.

 

Below is a statement from Gallatin Mayor Jo Ann Graves:

 

"The city is very concerned and saddened by the incidents today -- and those earlier this year -- at Hoeganes. The City of Gallatin first and foremost sends its thoughts and prayers out to the workers hurt and hospitalized today. We also send our thoughts and prayers to their families, coworkers and friends. Gallatin is a close community and many of us know some -- or all -- of those involved. It is premature for this office to speculate on cause or consequences. We must allow the appropriate agencies and professionals to conduct their investigation and inspections before we make any further comment."

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