Posts Tagged Sun Prairie Volunteer Fire Department Capt. Cory Barr

Sun Prairie Fire Department news (more)

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A bill was signed on Thursday renaming the Sun Prairie post office after Sun Prairie FD Captain Cory Barr who was killed in a natural gas explosion in downtown Sun Prairie in July 2018.

Workers installing fiber-optic cable triggered the explosion when they mistakenly struck an underground gas line. Barr was among a group of firefighters who evacuated more than 100 people from the area ahead of the blast. Six buildings were destroyed but no one else was killed.

The bill was introduced in April, the Senate passed it in July, and the House passed it Oct. 16.

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Sun Prairie Fire Department news (more)

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Two utility contractors faulted for contributing to an explosion that leveled part of downtown Sun Prairie and killed a volunteer firefighter in July were each fined $12,934, the maximum penalty allowed for serious violations by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration. 

In citation letters dated Jan. 4, OSHA said its inspectors found that Kansas-based Bear Communications and Michigan-based VC Tech failed to call a diggers hotline or utility owners to locate underground lines before starting work.

VC Tech, which was subcontracted by Bear Communications, punctured an unmarked underground gas line at about 6:20 p.m. on July 10 while boring a hole under Bristol Street and Main Street in Sun Prairie as part of a fiber communication line project for Verizon. The damaged gas line led to the explosion about 45 minutes after it was punctured, destroying five buildings, damaging several others and displacing dozens of residents.

Cory Barr, a captain with the Sun Prairie Volunteer Fire Department and owner of a tavern destroyed in the blast, was killed in the explosion. Two other volunteer firefighters were injured.

Bear Communications then contracted with VC Tech, mistakenly telling the company that the utility marking had been completed. VC Tech then punctured the gas line while doing horizontal-directional boring.

In addition to the OSHA findings, state regulators have been asked to consider issuing penalties to VC Tech. A panel that polices utility notification laws asked for the penalties after receiving a complaint from USIC Locating Services that claimed VC Tech violated state law when it failed to notify the state utility call center before starting work on July 10. Under state law, the Public Service Commission can issue fines of $25,000 per violation and up to $500,000 in fines for multiple violations.

USIC’s complaint, filed in October, alleged that VC Tech illegally piggybacked on the other company’s work order and failed to notify the call center before starting its work.

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Sun Prairie Fire Department news (more)


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A criminal investigation into who was responsible for a massive explosion that leveled several buildings and killed a volunteer firefighter last July has concluded that no crime was committed, Sun Prairie Police Chief Patrick Anhalt said Thursday. A broken chain of communication between utility contractors and subcontractors resulted in the location of a gas line being improperly marked prior to the July 10 explosion.

Abigail Barr, the widow of Sun Prairie Volunteer Fire Department Capt. Cory Barr, who was killed by the explosion, filed a lawsuit Thursday claiming VC Tech, Bear Communications, USIC Locating Services, and WEC Energy Group, known as We Energies are responsible for Barr’s death in the explosion.

Volunteer firefighters Ryan Welch and Greg Pavlik also filed lawsuits against the four companies for personal injury.

A police report released Thursday indicated the failure to mark a key spot where fiber-optic communications cable being installed by Verizon was to cross the path of the gas line happened because a subcontractor had dropped out of the project. As a result, the company marking the pavement on behalf of the subcontractor did not finish locating the underground utilities. When the underground work was passed on to another subcontractor, the contractor doing the work for Verizon told the new subcontractor to proceed, believing the work locating underground utilities had been finished. But it had not. The new subcontractor then struck the gas line in the street, which led to the explosion that destroyed several businesses and killed Barr and injured several others.

The state Fire Marshal’s Office said in its final report that investigators could not find what caused the gas to ignite, only that the explosion originated near the Barr House, 100 W. Main St.

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Sun Prairie Fire Department news

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A search warrant states that a Wisconsin-based worker for USIC, an Indiana company that has offices all over the U.S., failed to correctly mark the gas line in the street, where it was actually located, and instead marked a spot on a sidewalk about 25 feet away where there was no gas line.

The warrant was to search the public street for evidence that could support a charge of second-degree reckless homicide for the death of Sun Prairie Volunteer Fire Department Capt. Cory Barr, who was killed July 10 when gas that poured out of a rupture in a 4-inch natural gas line was ignited. Another firefighter, Ryan Welch, was critically injured in the explosion.

The warrant sought any electronic storage devices and data stored on equipment that was being used to do underground boring at the time the gas line was struck, items related to fiber communications conduit, and sections of the gas line.

According to the search warrant affidavit:

Buildings at 100 and 104 W. Main St. in Sun Prairie exploded about 40 minutes after a gas leak had been reported to 911. Properties from 100 to 113 W. Main St., on both sides of the street, were destroyed.

Valentine Cociuba of VC Tech, which was subcontracted by Verizon contractor Bear Communications to place a fiber communication line underground for Verizon, told investigators that Bear had told him that Diggers Hotline had been called on July 9, and that VC Tech could do its horizontal-directional boring through Bristol Street and Main Street.

Work began after looking over lines painted by USIC and formulating a plan, Cociuba told investigators. He said in the southwest corner of the Bristol-Main Street intersection, he and other VC Tech employees smelled gas and called 911. He took a photo of the area with his phone before evacuating the area, which showed no “T” markings indicating an intersecting utility, such as a gas line, on the pavement. Investigators later confirmed that on the ground above the area where VC Tech struck a gas line, there were no markings indicating an intersecting utility. Instead, there was a yellow painted T on the sidewalk about 25 feet to the north of the damaged gas pipe. No gas line was located there.

Another company was called to locate the gas lines in the area and confirmed the findings.

State Department of Criminal Investigation Agent Ryan Windorff was also provided a map by We Energies showing the gas utilities in the area. The gas line was in the road, he noted, not on the sidewalk as marked by USIC.

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