Explosion at West Haven VA Campus Kills 2, Wounds 3 Others

November 14, 2020Joshua Skovlund
Coffee or Die Photo

An apparent steam explosion erupted Friday at the Veterans Affairs Connecticut Healthcare System, West Haven Campus, killing two people and injuring three, according to Alfred A. Montoya Jr., director of the VA Connecticut Healthcare System.

“It is with great sorrow that I share that two deaths tragically occurred today, as a result of an explosion in the basement of an outer building at the West Haven campus. This occurred at approximately 8 a.m.,” Montoya said during a Friday press conference. “It was [caused by] a steam line that was being replaced. Our thoughts and prayers are with the family of the two victims.”

A scheduled maintenance repair of the steam pipes had been completed in the basement of one of the campus buildings, not attached to the main hospital, shortly after 8 a.m. Friday. The incident occurred after the steam was released back into the pipes following the repair.

West Haven VA
Alfred A. Montoya Jr., the director of the VA Connecticut Healthcare System, during the Friday press conference. Screenshot from YouTube.

“As many of you know, this campus was built in the ’40s, ’50s, and it is a constant, uphill battle to maintain the infrastructure, and that was what was occurring today,” Montoya said. “It is my understanding that work started around 7:30, at which time it was completed a little bit after 8 when the line was refilled with steam, and that’s when the incident occurred.”

One of the two people killed by the industrial accident was a US Navy veteran and a current employee of the VA; the other was a hired contractor. The identities of the two deceased and the three injured individuals have not been released at the time of publication.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal said that the West Haven campus is one of the many VA buildings that are outdated and in dire need of replacement. Blumenthal did not clarify the cause of the accident but emphasized the age of the building and the constant demands to keep its aging infrastructure running.

“Many of our VA facilities are aging and antiquated, [and] this one is one of them. This facility dates from the 1950s. It has the structure and bones of a 1950s building with a newer shell,” Blumenthal said. “I can tell you, having visited here so many times, this tragedy is only the latest indication that this building is past its ‘sell by date.’ It’s on a list to be replaced, but it has not yet been reached. […] We’ve been through a lot with this building.”

West Haven VA
The building where the explosion occurred on the West Haven VA campus was taped off soon after the incident unfolded. Screenshot from YouTube.

Blumenthal continued by thanking the VA employees and medical personnel for their continued work despite the facility’s limitations. He said that the VA will complete a full investigation in conjunction with other local, state, and federal agencies.

Sen. Christopher Murphy followed up Blumenthal’s remarks, saying, “I think it’s important to note that we don’t know what happened. It may be that there is a connection between the age of the facility and what happened today, but we don’t know that yet. What we do know is what Sen. Blumenthal said is that this is an old campus — it should have been replaced long ago.”

Charlie Grady, an FBI spokesperson in New Haven, said that the incident has been labeled an industrial accident, not a criminal accident, and that OSHA and the VA will be investigating the incident. West Haven Fire Department Chief James P. O’Brien said during the press conference that the Connecticut Office of the State Fire Marshal, the West Haven Fire Marshal’s Office, and the Connecticut Fire and Explosion Investigation Unit will be working to determine the origin and cause of the explosion in conjunction with the ATF, as well as working with local, state, and federal partners on the overall investigation. The West Haven Police Department will be leading the investigation into the “untimely deaths” that happened as a result of the explosion.

Joshua Skovlund
Joshua Skovlund

Joshua Skovlund is a former staff writer for Coffee or Die. He covered the 75th anniversary of D-Day in France, multinational military exercises in Germany, and civil unrest during the 2020 riots in Minneapolis. Born and raised in small-town South Dakota, he grew up playing football and soccer before serving as a forward observer in the US Army. After leaving the service, he worked as a personal trainer while earning his paramedic license. After five years as in paramedicine, he transitioned to a career in multimedia journalism. Joshua is married with two children.

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