The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) are in the process of investigating a fire that occurred at the Thanksgiving Tower in Dallas on Thursday, in which three workers became trapped in a 35-foot-deep chiller tank described by witnesses as “dilapidated.” The three deceased workers were later identified by the Dallas County medical examiner as Oscar Esparza-Romo, 36, Luis Carrillo-Solorzano, 43, and Nicacio Carrillo-Martinez, 60.
According to OSHA, the workers were employed by Best Mechanical Inc., and had been hired to clean four water tanks that were located in the lower levels of the tower. According to a statement by Dallas city officials, the workers were apparently not following proper safety procedures, and Best Mechanical did not have the proper permit to do work with a torch. Officials have not yet determined exactly what started the fire, however the fire was ignited while they were using the torch.
The storage tank was part of the Tower’s heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) system, and was located next to the building’s underground parking garage. Under normal circumstances, the tanks would be filled with water that is chilled overnight and then sent through a pipe and fan system that cools the building. The tank is about half the size of a basketball court, and 35 feet deep.
An OSHA statement noted that the tanks were empty at the time of the fire, and according to some, they hadn’t actually been used in about 25 years. The gained access to the tank they were working in using an electric lift basket one-at-a-time that is normally used to pass tools down. That was also the only way out. In their work, they were using a torch to cut away corroded and rusted parts of the tank. According to one fire investigator, the power went out at one point, and they were unable to extract the workers from the tank, which quickly filled with smoke, and the workers died from smoke inhalation. Firefighters also noted that no fire extinguishers were found inside the tank, but that two small buckets that had probably been filled with water were found.
No one involved had secured the proper permits. Thanksgiving Tower’s permit for welding, cutting and hot work expired last March, while Best Mechanical’s permit expired way back in December 2009.
The work on the four tanks and repairs on the air conditioning system is part of the redevelopment of the 32-year-old Thanksgiving Tower, with a budget of $174 million.
Every employer in Texas has a responsibility to provide a safe working environment for all of its workers. When they fail to do that, it is possible for them to be considered negligent. If a loved one has been injured or killed in a workplace accident of any kind, please contact the Texas Worksite Injury Lawyer at Hill Law Firm as soon as possible, and let us investigate all aspects of the situation and protect your rights.