Hudson Women Recounts House Explosion

Warnings Examined in Explosion Trial
December 15, 2011
Burn Victim Testifies About Gas Warnings
December 17, 2011
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Hudson Women Recounts House Explosion

WATERLOO, Iowa — Donna Firgard described the flames that erupted when she lit her water heater in 2008 as the trial continued Friday in her lawsuit against her propane dealer.

“Beautiful colors,” she said of the fire. “Reds, yellows, whites.”

But that glimpse of beauty turned to years of pain in a fraction of a second, Firgard, 68, told jurors.

The blast, caused by a leak in the line to her Waters Road home near Hudson, burned her glasses into her face. In addition to her head and her neck, Firgard’s arms, legs and back were badly burned. She passed out as medics loaded her onto a gurney.

Her first memories after that are of the burn unit at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics as she was placed in a “scrub tub” where nurses used abrasive sponges to scour dead skin from her body.

“I really didn’t know what was going on. I just knew that it hurt,” Firgard said.

Her memories of the hospital are obscured by the effects of powerful painkillers.

She developed a fear of showers because, every day, staff would have to wet down and peel off the bandages that stuck to her wounds.

On the stand, she went over diagrams that listed her numerous skin grafts. The chart showed where unburned skin from her stomach and the backs of her legs was harvested and transplanted over the burns.

She told jurors about wearing pressure masks and gloves and how doctors worked on the webbing of her right hand to add gussets for more flexibility. Physicians recommended the same operation for her left hand, but she refused to go through with it.

“Enough is enough,” she said.

Now, more than two years later, Firgard said her burns mean she can’t be outdoors for long.

“Winter’s my worst time. I freeze instantly,” she said.

In the summer, she has to be fully clothed and wear hats. She tires easily in the heat.

Her attorneys said the chemical odor injected into propane was stripped out when the naturally odorless gas seeped through the ground and pooled in her home. They claim New Century FS officials didn’t do enough to warn her of the danger or issue strong enough warnings to install leak detectors.

Firgard testified she didn’t smell any gas when she lit the pilot light on her water heater.

Attorneys for New Century said the gas odor should have been evident in Firgard’s home. They said the company issued warnings about propane dangers and recommended leak detectors.

By JEFF REINITZ, [email protected] |