“Gas explosions happen … mistakes are made … but this was no mistake.”
A firefighter in Washington filed a lawsuit Friday alleging the injuries he sustained during a gas-leak investigation were not related to a simple mistake — he argues the gas company is negligent.
The force caused during a natural-gas explosion knocked out firefighter Jeff Markoff, and he wants Puget Sound Energy (PSE) to take accountability … not only to protect Seattle’s citizens, but also to protect his fellow first responders.
In the lawsuit filed Friday, The Seattle Times reports Jeff Markoff said he was about 90 feet from the epicenter of the alleyway explosion that leveled two buildings and damaged dozens more. He said he has since experienced “ongoing cognitive difficulties, severe headaches, hearing loss, disturbances such as recurring images after the explosion, memory loss and other health issues.
Markoff, 50, said in an interview Monday with the Times that the explosion “blew me and pretty much everybody standing in that back alley onto our faces.”
Markoff says as firefighters, they’re trained, to get up and dust themselves off. He said he’s only missed a few shifts since the 2016 blast, but mounting health issues are giving him cause for concern.
“We’re used to picking ourselves up and dusting ourselves off after something like this,” he said. But since the explosion, he says he’s experienced health issues he thinks are related to the blast.
“I can probably count the number of headaches I’ve had in my life on one hand, maybe two,” Markoff tells the paper. “Now it’s almost a daily occurrence.”
Markoff’s lawyer, Darrell Cochran says, “There’s increasing concern that the blast has caused some brain injury.”
In addition to compensation for his injuries, Markoff’s lawsuit requests that the court order PSE to inspect and remediate its gas pipelines “to protect the public from a grave harm.”
“The most important part of the lawsuit is to make sure Puget Sound Energy has no choice but to do a comprehensive analysis of its pipelines, and particularly its abandoned pipelines to make sure they’ve been capped and cut off and are no danger to the public,” Cochran tells the Times.
Markoff, an 18-year-veteran firefighter, was among nine firefighters injured in the March 9, 2016, blast.
Markoff’s argument the company was negligent may not be too far fetched.
The Times reports a state Utilities and Transportation Commission investigation found that employees of a contractor hired by PSE for pipeline maintenance did not properly cut and cap the gas line, which allowed gas to flow to a retired line.
In March, PSE reached a $1.5 million settlement with the Utilities and Transportation Commission (UTC) over the March 2016 explosion. The settlement calls for PSE to complete “a comprehensive inspection and remediation program” of thousands of retired gas lines, according to the Times.
PSE spokeswoman Janet Kim said the utility would not comment on Markoff’s lawsuit because it is pending litigation.
She added PSE had already begun working on an inspection program for its retired gas infrastructure and had worked with the Seattle Fire Department on improving training for first responders to gas leaks, the Times reports.
“I know the UTC commission has already fined them, and that’s all fine and good, but they’re not the ones that were there that night and almost lost their lives,” Markoff tells the Times. “I just don’t think it’s enough.”
With almost two decades on the front lines of service to his community, Markoff is familiar with the risks involved on the job, and he says his willing to accept that risk — but was troubled to read investigators’ case summary after the explosion.
“Gas leaks in people’s apartments are something that go on all the time. Gas explosions happen … mistakes are made,” Markoff tells the Times. “But this was no mistake.”
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