The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is reportedly looking into the oversight of a father-son team that was conducting the hazardous operation of moving a gas meter at a Minneapolis school earlier this month when a natural gas explosion caused part of the building to collapse, killing two people. The blast occurred at Minnehaha Academy, a private Christian school in Minneapolis, on August 3rd, just several weeks before school was due to start back. The two victims of the explosion are Ruth Berg, a receptionist who had worked at the school for 17 years, and John Carlson, a part-time custodian and alumnus of the school.
The explosion occurred at about 10:30 AM when contractors working on the building frantically warned of a gas leak. The subsequent explosion collapsed walls, buckled floors, ignited fires, and knocked people off their feet outside the building. Emergency responders and school employees fought fires and climbed through debris to bring people to safety. About eight people were rescued from the building in the immediate aftermath of the explosion, but two remained missing. Berg’s body was found early in the afternoon, and Carlson’s body was found six hours later, both in the rubble near an exterior door.
City records show that the father-son duo that the NTSB is investigating were working for contractor Master Mechanical, which was issued a permit on June 7th for “gas piping and hooking up meter” at the school’s address. The contractor was hired to move a gas meter from inside the school building to outside the school as part of gas company CenterPoint Energy’s plan to move meters outside for easier access. Master Mechanical has been cited twice for workplace violations in recent years, including a violation related to failing to protect an employee from falling in 2010 and a paperwork violation in 2014.
Christopher Hart, an NTSB board member, said that investigators are seeking details about the relationship between the companies involved in the operation, the process for contracts, and any oversight of the meter’s movement. “[Moving a gas meter is] a very hazardous operation and requires considerable planning and oversight to conduct that operation safely…and we want to find out all we can about how robust was that oversight process,” he said. He also stated that investigators will be looking into whether the father or son attempting to move the meter were fatigued, distracted, or impaired, which is standard in investigations of this nature. The agency also plans to examine whether the gas was properly shut off at the street or the building before work commenced.
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