Norfolk Gas Explosion Press Release

State Reports Released in Fatal Norfolk Condo Propane Gas Explosion

For more information call:
Marc Breakstone, 617 723 7676; cell 617 851 0808

BOSTON-(December 29, 2010)- The Massachusetts State Fire Marshall and the Massachusetts State Police Fire/Explosion Investigation Unit released their reports today, which concluded that the cause of the July 30, 2010 propane gas explosion in Norfolk, Massachusetts that killed William Nichols was the leak of unodorized propane gas.  These reports culminated an intensive four-month joint investigation by the State Police and State Fire Marshall into the cause and origin of the deadly explosion.

William Nichols, an electrician, was one of the workers in the building when it exploded. He was buried under burning debris for more than ninety minutes before he was pulled alive and conscious from the wreckage.  Mr. Nichols, age 46, died that evening at Brigham & Women’s Hospital from his massive injuries.

The State Police investigator concluded that the cause of the explosion was a propane leak which occurred in the basement, in or near the furnace. The investigator also found that samples taken from the underground tank that fed the furnace revealed the absence of ethyl mercaptan, a strong odorant which is added to propane to allow for its detection.

The State Fire Marshall’s report concluded that EnergyUSA, the Taunton propane company which installed the tank and then delivered the gas to the tank, made a delivery of only 200 gallons in April, 2010. The propane likely experienced odorant fade in the months before the explosion.  The report states, “The injection of ethyl mercaptan is important to public safety for both customers and first responders.”  The report also states, ‘The purpose of ethyl mercaptan is to provide a means to detect or smell a leak from the LP gas.  Odorant fade is common to new LP tanks.”

The furnace and associated piping involved in the leak had been installed by Smolinksy Brothers Plumbing and Heating Service of Norfolk, MA.

Boston attorney Marc Breakstone, who represents the Nichols family, stated that ‘these reports describe in painful detail the danger of a leak of unodorized propane gas into the environment.  This was a tragedy which could have been prevented if industry safety standards had been followed.”

Breakstone added, “It appears that EnergyUSA failed to heed the obvious warning on the fuel tank that required the tank be filled to its capacity to prevent odorant fade.”

Follow Up: $7.5 Million Settlement and New Safety Practices

Attorney Marc Breakstone secured a $7.5 million settlement for the grieving family of William Nichols, who perished in this preventable propane explosion.

In less than 18 months, Attorney Breakstone took over 35 depositions and secured the testimony of every key actor in this tragedy.  During this time, Attorney Breakstone demonstrated that the propane gas company negligently allowed the small amount of propane gas in the subject tank to become de-odorized in order to save less than $1,000.  He further demonstrated the plumbing contractor negligently failed to ensure that a simple plumbing connection was secure. This would have prevented the inadvertent release of unodorized gas into the basement environment.

As a result of this case, the state of Massachusetts initiated statewide safety practices to ensure that another tragedy like this does not befall any other unsuspecting workers.

You can watch the video testimonial of Scott Nichols, the brother of William Nichols, who tragically perished in this explosion.  Scott speaks to his experience of being represented by Attorney Marc Breakstone.


State Fire Marshal Report

Code Compliance Report