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April 15, 2013

Report details missteps prior to house explosion

By Robert Guttersohn
C & G Staff Writer

ROYAL OAK — Consumers Energy workers installing a gas line Feb. 27 waited 27 minutes after discovering that they had caused a gas leak before calling for assistance, a Consumer Energy report states.

Six minutes later, a house on the block exploded, killing one man.

The report completed April 3 and submitted to the Michigan Public Service Commission revealed that gas crews on that day overlooked five safety standards while installing a gas line along Cooper Avenue just prior to the fatal explosion.

Daniel Malczynski, 58, died when his home along Cooper Avenue exploded. The explosion also damaged up to 35 nearby properties.

The day after the incident, Consumers Energy said a damaged gas line caused the leak. The gas company’s report says that, as the workers were digging, they did not ensure that no gas lines were in the way. Then, after discovering that they had damaged a gas line, the report says the crew also failed to follow precautionary steps to guarantee the safety of nearby areas.

While the report provides a timeline depicting what the crew did before and after rupturing the line, the report does not say what the crew should have done.

“We are not really commenting beyond what’s on the report because the investigation is ongoing,” said Debra Dodd, a spokeswoman for Consumers Energy. “It boils down to not following procedures and doing what you are trained to do.”

Both the state and the gas company are still investigating the accident.

Consumers Energy admitted in March that its employees were at fault for the fatal explosion and the company had fired those who were responsible. The report provides the first detailed look into the events of that day.

Beginning at 7:30 a.m., four crewmembers were working on an underground main two houses south of Malczynski’s residence, according to the report. Hours later, at about 4:30 p.m., the crew reported smelling natural gas. Two of the crew checked gas levels at the surface while the other two knocked on Malczynski’s door, but there was no response. The victim lived alone and is suspected to have been asleep when the explosion occurred, officials said.

The report says 27 minutes after first smelling gas, the crewmembers called Consumers Energy to report the gas leak, and the gas company subsequently dispatched a gas service worker to respond while the crew left the scene.

While en route to the 4000 block of Cooper Avenue, Malczynski’s house exploded, killing him.

Judy Palnau, a spokeswoman for the MPSC, said the commission is still working on its own investigation.

The investigation staff for the commission will ultimately put together a report for the MPSC’s three commissioners, Palnau said. The commission will then issue orders, but what the orders will be is too premature to predict, she said.

“There are gas safety standards and rules that utilities are expected to follow,” she said. “And if they don’t, it could potentially involve fines or it could involve direct orders for action to the gas company.”

To avoid similar incidents in the future, Consumers Energy encourages residents who smell a “rotten egg” odorant to immediately call them from a safe location at (800) 477-5050.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Robert Guttersohn at rguttersohn@candgnews.com or at (586)218-5006.