Deadly trig­ger

Com­pres­sor mal­func­tion caused gas ex­plo­sions

Jamaica Gleaner - - FRONT PAGE - Christo­pher Serju and Ja­son Cross Gleaner Writ­ers

EX­PERTS AT the Ja­maica Fire Brigade have de­ter­mined that a com­pres­sor be­ing used to con­vert and trans­fer liq­ue­fied petroleum gas (LPG) from one of two 1,000gal­lon tanks housed in a truck ig­nited and caused Sun­day’s fire at 3 Jacques Av­enue, in­jur­ing five per­sons, in­clud­ing 48-year-old Everett Austin, who suc­cumbed to his in­juries. This reve­la­tion has come even as lo­cal mar­ket­ing com­pa­nies are to meet to find ways to end the il­le­gal trade of gas. As­sis­tant Su­per­in­ten­dent Court­ney Thomp­son of the York Park Fire Sta­tion told The Gleaner that in­ves­ti­ga­tions show that the com­pres­sor mal­func­tioned and ig­nited as a re­sult of overuse, trig­ger­ing the ex­plo­sion of cook­ing gas cylin­ders con­tain­ing propane. “It was the com­pres­sor that ac­tu­ally started the fire to make it ex­plode,” he said, point­ing out that the mo­tor “ran hot”

af­ter be­ing used to carry out the op­er­a­tion, which would have ne­ces­si­tated the use of big­ger­size wiring to ef­fec­tively carry the elec­tric­ity load from the 220 volt­age re­quired.

Eme­lio Ebanks, pub­lic re­la­tions of­fi­cer at the Ja­maica Fire Brigade, ex­plained that all pub­lic build­ings that are in­tended or oc­cu­pied for busi­ness must be cer­ti­fied by the brigade, as re­quired by law, fol­low­ing a thor­ough in­spec­tion. He said the premises where the fire and sub­se­quent ex­plo­sions oc­curred were never on its list of cer­ti­fied prop­er­ties.

“We didn’t even know about this busi­ness. This was a com­mer­cial op­er­a­tion that was tak­ing place in a res­i­den­tial com­mu­nity, and res­i­dents have been so tight-lipped af­ter the fire. I doubt if any of the reg­u­la­tory au­thor­i­ties knew about it,” he said.

Mean­while, Rohan Am­ber­s­ley, chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of Gas Pro, said all three lo­cal mar­ket­ing com­pa­nies of LPG – the oth­ers be­ing Pet­com and In­dus­trial Gases Lim­ited (IGL) – are to meet to dis­cuss how to stamp out the il­le­gal trade. How­ever, they are await­ing a full re­port on Sun­day’s fire, which re­sulted in third-de­gree burns to all the vic­tims. For this rea­son, he said a date for this meet­ing is yet to be de­cided.

Ex­plain­ing that he knew noth­ing of the facts sur­round­ing the tragic in­ci­dent, the Gas Pro ex­ec­u­tive re­fused to be drawn on what might have oc­curred. “I have no in­for­ma­tion there,” he said but stressed that ad­her­ence to es­tab­lished and emerg­ing safety pro­to­cols is piv­otal to his com­pany’s op­er­a­tions.

“We take it very se­ri­ously, and, there­fore, we go a very far way in en­sur­ing that those who are sell­ing the prod­uct for us are pro­vided with the nec­es­sary train­ing. And we en­sure that the equip­ment we use is fit for pur­pose, and, in terms of our trade ac­tiv­i­ties, they align to the high­est safety stan­dards pos­si­ble.”

IGL PUB­LIC STATE­MENT

There had been as­sump­tions in some quar­ters that Austin, who died in the ex­plo­sion, was an em­ployee of IGL Lim­ited. He is be­lieved to have been the driver of a truck that was on the premises at the time of the ex­plo­sion with two 1,000lb gas cylin­ders in the back of it. How­ever, IGL Lim­ited has dis­tanced it­self from Austin.

“The man­age­ment team of IGL Lim­ited wishes to ad­vise the pub­lic that Mr Everett Austin, who died trag­i­cally over the week­end as a re­sult of the al­leged fill­ing of LPG cylin­ders at a lo­ca­tion on Jacques Av­enue, was not an em­ployee of IGL and is not as­so­ci­ated with IGL in any way. We un­der­stand that he was a con­tract driver for a petroleum-haulage com­pany. We re­gret the tragic cir­cum­stances, in­clud­ing the loss of life and property, as a re­sult of this ap­par­ent il­le­gal act,” the com­pany said in a state­ment is­sued on Tues­day.

Mean­while, a source close to Petro­jam told The Gleaner that they did not sell cook­ing gas to end users and that the com­pany would not be in­volved in such prac­tices.

“Based on what is hap­pen­ing out there, it’s not Petro­jam per se. [Petro­jam] does not sell cook­ing gas di­rectly to the end user. [Petro­jam] would not be in­volved in any kind of il­licit ac­tiv­ity such as that,” the source said.

A cook­ing gas provider in Kingston was adamant that op­er­a­tions sim­i­lar to the one that went up in smoke in­fringed on the prof­its of le­gal cook­ing-gas providers.

“It af­fects the sales. Cus­tomers are go­ing to grav­i­tate to­wards the cheaper price. They are sell­ing be­low our buy­ing price, and sec­ond, they full them more,” he said.

We didn’t even know about this busi­ness. This was a com­mer­cial op­er­a­tion that was tak­ing place in a res­i­den­tial com­mu­nity ... .

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