An explosion inside a Bronx high school that caused severe burn injuries to three gas utility workers and destroyed part of the building was set off by a match one of the workers lit to test the integrity of a new gas pipe they had just installed, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a news conference.
The workers, all employees of the private contracting firm Positive Electrical Associates, were working in the sixth-floor science lab at John F. Kennedy High School when the blast occurred at 8:09 p.m., leaving a gaping hole in the building that heavily damaged several floors. Residents throughout the neighborhood reported feeling the explosion.
Worker Luigi Barillaro, 36, was critically injured by the blast with burns covering 90 percent of his body, the New York Post reported, citing officials involved in the case. Two other workers, Charles Marullo, 53, and James Intriago, 38, are being treated for severe burn injuries in a New York City hospital. Mr. Barillaro is being treated inside a hyperbaric chamber at Jacobi Medical Center for his life-threatening injuries.
Comments made by Mayor de Blasio call into question the level of training and safety awareness the workers possessed.
“They were installing a new gas line and used a match to test it and caused quite a massive blast,” de Blasio told 1010 WINS news radio. “I do not believe this is a standard procedure. I do believe this was a mistake and obviously a very costly one for the workers involved.”
According to the New York Times, Mr. de Blasio said the contractor “had a good reputation” and had worked on other projects for the City before the explosion.
The damaged school building, which houses eight other schools, and enrolls a total of 3,000 students, will not be repaired by September 9, the first day of the new school year. New York City authorities are working on plans to school some or all of the affected students in alternative buildings, but cautioned that plans hinged on whether all or just part of the school building is unsafe.