When most families part ways in the morning for their jobs, most don’t expect it to be the last time they will ever see each other. Unfortunately for the families of two workers who worked at the Bruce Mansfield coal-fired power plant in Shippingport, this was their reality on a tragic late August day. On August 30th, two workers, Kevin Bachner, 34, and John Michael Gorchock, 42, were killed in an accident at the power plant, and now their families have filed wrongful death lawsuits against FirstEnergy Group.
But what happened? Well, both men were “working as contractors for a company called Enerfab” at the time and on the day of their deaths they “were working to repair a pipe…when a noxious gas believed to hydrogen sulfide filled a confined underground pit.” According to the lawsuits, which were filed in Allegheny County Court, the families allege “that the Enerfab workers were told that only water was in the pipe and that they were misled about the dangers of the situation.” Additionally, the lawsuits also stated “that five Enerfab contractors were working in a partially underground and partially enclosed concrete structure that was a confined space with limited access and egress about 25 feet below the surface.”
Right before the accident occurred, “a circuit breaker tripped, leaving the men in darkness in the pit.” Though one of the contractors climbed out to restore power, a “noxious, dangerous and/or poisonous gas believed to be hydrogen sulfide was released into the pit.” Shortly after the gas entered the pit, workers above ground began to hear “screams and other sounds of distress from the four workers left below.” Though two of the four contractors were able to escape, “Gorchock and Bachner died either from exposure to the gas or from drowning in the structure.”
As a result of the accident, the families of the two men filed the lawsuits, claiming “FirstEnergy failed to provide a reasonably safe environment for the workers.” It also highlights another “37 grievances against FirstEnergy, including an allegation that the company failed to obtain a permit for work inside a confined space, which is mandated by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration.”
On top of all those allegations and grievances, the lawsuits also allege that “FirstEnergy failed to design and implement an escape and/or rescue plan for confined spaces at the Mansfield facility.” It also alleges that the company “failed to ensure that the pipe was equipped with an emergency shutoff valve accessible to the workers” and that the company “failed to install forced-air ventilation in the enclosed structure and failed to implement a system that would prevent the building of poisonous gas in the pit.”
So what do the families hope to gain from the lawsuits? For starters, they’re “asking for the company to reimburse them for medical, funeral and administrative costs, as well as a lifetime of lost earnings.”
When asked about the pending litigation, a spokeswoman for FirstEnergy declined to comment. However, she did say the following:
“FirstEnergy’s internal investigation into the tragic fatal accident involving two contract workers is ongoing, and we are unable to comment on the litigation at this time.”