Two workers were killed in an explosion Friday while repairing a steam pipe in a maintenance building at a Veterans Affairs hospital in Connecticut, officials said.
Alfred Montoya Jr., director of the VA Connecticut Healthcare System, said the men were in the basement of the small outer building and had just finished routine maintenance on a leaky pipe. He said the explosion occurred just after 8 a.m. as the pipe was being refilled with steam.
The names of those killed were not immediately released. One was a contractor and the other was a VA employee and a Navy veteran, Montoya said.
That man's next of kin told Montoya that her loved one had decided to work for the VA because he wanted to take care of fellow veterans.
“(She said) he wanted to give back to those men and women who fought so hard,” Montoya said. “It's moments like that really tear at your heart and tear at your soul.”
Three other workers were injured, but those injuries were not life threatening, officials said. Officials initially believed one worker was missing but all were accounted for.
The contractor who died worked for Mulvaney Mechanical, based in Danbury, Connecticut, said company Vice President Charles Brough.
“Our prayers are with the families of the victims of this explosion," VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said.
Police, the FBI, the VA and the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration were investigating the accident, and the cause of the explosion had not been determined Friday, officials said.
The explosion occurred in a building that houses the hospital’s labor shops, such as carpentry and plumbing, a spokesperson for the hospital said.
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, said the hospital, which officials said was built in the 1950s and underwent a renovation in the 1990s, has decaying infrastructure and is on a list of aging VA facilities that need to be replaced.
“This building is past its sell-by date,” he said.
Gov. Ned Lamont, a Democrat, said state emergency management officials will provide as much aid as necessary to conduct an investigation.
“This is a heartbreaking tragedy, and I have instructed our state agencies to provide full resources as the response and investigation continues,” Lamont said.
“We received a report this morning that an explosion occurred at the West Haven campus of the VA Connecticut Healthcare System that resulted in two deaths in a non-patient care area," VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said in a statement.
“Neither of the victims were VA patients and patient care was not affected. Emergency personnel are on the scene," the statement said. "Our prayers are with the families of the victims of this explosion.”
Max Reiss, a spokesman for Gov. Ned Lamont, said a third person was missing.
West Haven firefighters described it as a “steam explosion” at a facilities building a short distance from the hospital, their union said in a Facebook post.
State and federal investigators responded, Brian Foley, a top aide to state Public Safety Commissioner James Rovella, said earlier in a text message. He cited “an explosion type incident” with “serious injuries."
The area of the campus where the blast happened was taped off by late Friday morning, but people were being allowed to enter and exit the main hospital building.
The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration is looking into what happened, spokesperson Jim Lally said.
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