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Warnings Examined in Explosion Trial

WATERLOO, Iowa — The company that provided propane to a Hudson home that exploded in 2008 recommended residents install gas leak detectors.

But New Century FS stopped short of selling the alarms and wouldn’t refuse to sell propane to customers who didn’t have the devices, a company official testified Wednesday.

Hudson resident Donna Firgard and her husband, Richard, are suing New Century over the May 2008 blast that destroyed their home and left her with second- and third-degree burns over a third of her body.

Their attorney, Brett Beattie, said New Century didn’t do enough to warn the couple about the dangers of propane and the need for detectors.

New Century’s attorney, David Dahlmeier, said the company did issue warnings and complied with every code and standard in the propane industry.

“We highly recommend gas detectors,” Kevin DeGoey, the company’s energy manager, told jurors.

He went over annual “duty to warn” mailings New Century sent out and a propane trade association brochure that also was sent to customers before the blast.

Beattie criticized the wording, noting that passages about the dangers and alarms wasn’t highlighted or written in bold typeface and appeared to be buried in the text.

“Is there any reason that information shows up in the third or fourth paragraph?” Beattie asked.

DeGoey said New Century doesn’t provide gas detectors because big box retail stores provide the devices for a smaller cost than the company could buy them for. Also, he said the company prefers to refrain from working with items like appliances inside homes.

Forcing customers to buy detectors could cause them to go elsewhere for their energy needs, DeGoey said.

DeGoey also said the company recommends customers don’t light their own pilot lights in the event they go out. Beattie said there was no evidence company employees ever told Donna Firgard about that recommendation.

Firgard was cooking at home and the explosion happened when she noticed there was no hot water and she went to light the water heater.

Beattie said gas had leaked from an underground line, and she wasn’t aware of the leak because of ground had filtered out the odor-causing chemical.

By JEFF REINITZ, [email protected] wcfcourier.com