According to the company, the five workers were part of a team of nine contractors from RPI Coating of Santa Fe Springs, Calif. working in a penstock 1,500-2,000 feet below ground and applying an epoxy coating to the inside of the pipe to prevent corrosion. Four of the nine were positioned below the fire location and were able to exit the pipe.
The remaining workers were reached by rescuers who confirmed the deaths of the other five contractors, said Tim Taylor, president and CEO, Public Service Company of Colorado, an Xcel Energy company.
“We want to express our deepest sympathies to the families, friends and co-workers of those who died,” Taylor said. “Certainly, we’ll be working closely with the authorities to investigate what happened.”
Marc Dyer, RPI's director for sales and marketing, told OccupationalHazards.com that the company was devastated over the loss of their employees.
“We have no idea what is happening at this point,” he said. “I know investigators are taking care of this right now. All we know is that there was a fire and that our men weren't able to get out.” He also said the company was in the process of contacting the victims' families but was not giving out any information about the workers at this time.
The company specializes in coating the interiors of large water pipes with epoxy coatings, as well as painting and fire-proofing surfaces.
Men Initially Were Thought to be Safe
It was believed that the five men had escaped harms' way after the fire first erupted. According to a previous statement by Xcel Energy, the five contractors had “climbed to a safe distance from the fire and were waiting for the fire department to extinguish the flames before they can get out.”
According to CNN, half an hour after the fire broke out, the five men had been in radio contact with rescue workers and indicated that they were safe and uninjured. Rescue crews lowered containers of oxygen down a tunnel to the workers, but it isn't known if the workers received the supplies.
Federal Authorities Are Investigating
According to the Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB), an independent federal agency charged with investigating chemical accidents, supervisor investigator Don Holmstrom was deployed on Oct. 3 to begin a preliminary investigation of the incident. The agency will try to determine what caused the fire, why the men were killed and any will issue safety recommendations for the future, if needed.
The Colorado Bureau of Investigation and OSHA are investigating the incident as well.
In response to the tragedy, Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., chair of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, sent his condolences and pointed out the need for improved worker safety laws.
“I send my sincere condolences to the families of the five workers who were killed,” he said. “This needless tragedy should be a call to action for Congress to modernize our job safety laws to reduce the dangers that so many Americans face on the job every day.”