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Questions Remain About Colebrook Explosion
A lawsuit in federal court and an investigation by the State Fire Marshall are attempting to answer why two men died at a factory in Colebrook last year.
The explosion at Black Mag, which drew fire and police from across the North Country also injured a third worker.
And for the past year, one question keeps popping up.
Why wasn’t it prevented?
NHPR’s Chris Jensen reports.
SOUND OF ENGINES BEING DISPATCHED*
That’s how it began on May 14th.
An explosion at the Black Mag factory in Colebrook shook the town.
The police and fire departments evacuated some 40 homes.
When the smoke had cleared, officials found the explosion had killed Jesse Kennett and Donald Kendall and injured another man.
Now, roughly 10 months later, the question remains: How could it happen?
But some developments are making an answer more likely.
If you ask the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, OSHA, officials there say Black Mag was a dangerous place to work.
Late last year OSHA released a 52-page report about it.
“Well, OSHA found that the company had disregarded basic safety procedures involving the manufacturer of the gunpowder substitute known as ‘Black Mag powder.’”
That’s Edmund Fitzgerald, an OSHA official based in Boston.
He says the Agency wasn’t even aware of the company before the explosion.
“In summary, the major concerns here were the lack of protective controls, the lack of protective equipment and the lack of training for the workers.”
OSHA found that one problem was the company required workers to feed explosive powder into the machines by hand.
Small arms ammunition was not properly separated from flammable liquids.
Workers were not able to start the machines from a safe, remote location.
And according to OSHA, the workers lacked protective equipment and adequate training,.
OSHA said so many of the violations were “willful” that it levied a fine of $1.2 million.
“This is the largest penalty in New Hampshire that we can remember, in memory.”
Black Mag disagrees with OSHA and has appealed its findings.
Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms has also inspected the plant.
However, the ATF refused to release its safety report without NHPR filing a Freedom of Information request.
The plant was also inspected by the state fire marshal’s office late in 2009.
With a few exceptions – like getting better exit signs – the Fire Marshal found no problems.
But the factory wasn’t operating at that time.
The state fire marshal’s office has also been compiling a report but has yet to make it public.
But here’s the big question:
If the OSHA report is accurate how could things have been so bad that nobody knew or did anything?
“The very fact that this happened and two young men were killed as the result of a workplace incident really creates a question about is there adequate safety review.”
That’s attorney Philip Waystack.
He’s representing Bethany Kennett, who lost her husband in the explosion.
Kennett and Ruth Kendall, the mother of the other man who was killed, are suing in federal district court in Concord.
They charge Millennium Designed Muzzleloaders Ltd. and Black Mag disregarded the safety of workers.
The suit also alleges Black Mag stored more hazardous materials than allowed by state and federal officials.
In response Millenium says it didn’t do anything wrong.
In fact, the company says it didn’t operate the Colebrook facility, Black Mag did.
There is, however, a link between the two.
Craig Sanborn is an executive with each firm.
He’s the one who set up the Colebrook facility.
As lawyers begin to dig into that case, what went wrong in Colebrook should become clearer.
A hearing on the OSHA charges is scheduled for May 24th.
And finally there is the investigation by the state fire marshal.
Depending on what emerges from that report, the Coos County Attorney Robert MeKeel says there could be a criminal investigation.
For NHPR News this is Chris Jensen