Omaha Seeks $100k From Contractor Responsible for Explosion

The City of Omaha, Nebraska is seeking to recover over $100,000 in firefighting costs from a contractor responsible for an explosion and fire earlier this year.

The January 9, 2016 incident in the historic Old Market neighborhood gutted a building that housed a pub. Crews working for North Central Service, Inc., reportedly struck an underground gas main resulting in the explosion and fire.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has fined North Central Services $4,900, although the contractor is appealing.

Omaha is seeking reimbursement under an ordinance that allows it to recover expenses from a party who causes a “hazardous materials emergency”. The total amount sought from North Central Service is $103,668.35, approximately $85,000 of which is for personnel, $2,200 for overtime, and $14,000 to repair damaged firefighting equipment.

The owner of the damaged property, Mercer Management, has already filed suit against North Central Service. Unclear at this point is the impact of errors made by other entities at the scene, including the Metropolitan Utilities District whose workers mistakenly turned off the wrong valve resulting in a delay in securing the flow of gas to the fire.

UPDATE: 5/24/16 Here is a post-fire press release issued by the Metropolitan Utilities District relative to the issue of whether the site had been properly marked for the presence of underground utilities: MUD statement

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.

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