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2 Dead After Explosion At Conn. VA Hospital

Officials say two people are dead and three others are injured following an explosion at a Veterans Affairs hospital in Connecticut.

This story has been updated.

State and federal investigators are responding to the VA Medical Center in West Haven, where the explosion occurred in a maintenance area around 8 a.m. Local firefighters said they responded to a “steam explosion” at a facilities building that is a short distance from the hospital.

There were no reports of patient injuries and the hospital is continuing its operations.

Alfred A. Montoya, Jr., director of VA Connecticut Healthcare System, said one of the deceased workers was a Navy veteran.

“As veteran, he wanted to take care of fellow veterans,” Montoya said. “He wanted to give back to those men and women who fought so hard.”

Before the accident occurred, Montoya said the workers were doing “regularly scheduled” work to replace a leaky steam pipe. 

“It is my understanding that that work started around 7:30,” Montoya said. “It was completed a little bit after 8 o’clock, when the line was refilled with steam, and that’s when the incident occured.” 

In addition to the Navy veteran, the other deceased worker appears to have been employed by Mulvaney Mechanical, a contractor at the site, but officials did not immediately identify either of the deceased workers.

Charlie Brough, vice president of Mulvaney, issued this statement.

“We have been advised of a significant event at the West Haven VA Hospital involving our personnel. We are cooperating in all matters of investigating what has transpired. At this juncture, we have been apprised of the death of one of our team members. We will issue additional information as it becomes available."

In addition to the two deaths, Montoya said three other VA employees sustained minor injuries. Those workers were treated on site. 

U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal said Friday afternoon that there will be a “full investigation” into the explosion and its cause. 

“Today is a reminder that our veterans do more than serve in uniform, they come back and they serve in our communities and they give of themselves, and sometimes, as today, they give their lives,” Blumenthal said. 

VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said in a statement Friday that patient care at the hospital was not affected. 

“Emergency personnel are on the scene,” Wilkie said in his statement. “Our prayers are with the families of the victims of this explosion. More information will be provided as it becomes confirmed and available.”

Charles Grady, a spokesperson for the Federal Bureau of Investigation, said early Friday afternoon the incident appeared to be an “industrial steam accident” and that “nothing nefarious” was suspected. State police confirmed the FBI was “on scene” following the explosion.

Gov. Ned Lamont said the loss is “a tragedy in the middle of a pandemic,” and thanked first responders gathered at the back of the room during a midday media briefing at the hospital. 

“This is a day where our infection rate went up yet again: 6.4 perent,” Lamont said. “For a state that’s really done everything right. And you’ve done everything right.”

“I just urge you, dust yourself off,” Lamont said. “We appreciate what you are doing for the Connecticut family.”  

State police said shortly after 9 am, they sent  detectives from their fire and explosion investigative unit to the campus of the veteran affairs hospital for the explosion. A spokesperson for the state police said the West Haven Fire Marshall and state officials will work with federal authorities to determine the “origin and cause” of this explosion. 

The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration is also looking into the causes. 

Drive-thru coronavirus testing is underway at the facility, and continued uninterrupted by the blast Friday morning.

This post contains information from the Associated Press.

Aerial view of the VA Medical Center in West Haven on November 13, 2020.
Ryan Caron King / Connecticut Public
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Aerial view of the VA Medical Center in West Haven on November 13, 2020.
View of the VA Medical Center in West Haven on November 13, 2020.
Ryan Caron King / Connecticut Public
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View of the VA Medical Center in West Haven on November 13, 2020.

Copyright 2020 Connecticut Public

Staff