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Burn Victim Testifies About Gas Warnings

WATERLOO, Iowa — A Hudson woman who was caught in an explosion when she attempted to ignite a water heater pilot light told jurors her gas company never gave her safety information or warnings.

Donna Firgard is taking New Century FS to court in connection with the May 2008 blast that leveled her house and sent her to the hospital with second- and third-degree burns.

Her attorneys allege New Century officials didn’t do enough to warn her about the dangers of de-odorized propane and the importance of leak detectors. They said propane leaked from an underground line, and the soil filtered out the chemical that had been added to give it its distinct smell.

New Century officials said the leaked propane still had an odor, and they said the company did issue warnings about gas detectors.

Firgard testified that if she had been warned, she would have had a gas detector installed in her home.

She talked about an incident about three months earlier when she noticed the scent of propane around her clothes dryer. In that case, she called the appliance dealer, which fixed a leak inside the dryer.

She said an employee of a heating company taught her how to light pilots about 15 years ago because her husband used to travel a lot for work. She said she had lit the pilot a number of times in the past.

Firgard also testified about how workers with Weick Brothers propane — the company that was later purchased by New Century — changed the gas regulators at their home in 2005. At the time, the workers made small talk with her but didn’t tell her about leak detectors, she said.

The man who helped with the job, Dan Schmidt, said he didn’t specially remember his conversation with Firgard. But he said part of their normal procedure included going over safety and gas detectors.

“When we did a regulator change out, we had a protocol we went through,” Schmidt said.

New Century officials earlier testified they sent out safety information in the mail, enclosed with account statements and on the back of delivery tickets.

By JEFF REINITZ, [email protected] wcfcourier.com |