Thursday, July 6, 2017

Antonio Navarrete, a contractor working at the Big Bend Power Station, passed away after being hospitalized for several days. He was one of four people injured when molten slag was suddenly released from a tank that was being cleaned.

Antonio Navarrete, third worker to die

Antonio Navarrete, third worker to die

TAMPA (FOX 13) - A third worker has now died from his injuries after last week’s accident at a TECO power plant.

Antonio Navarrete, a contractor working at the Big Bend Power Station, passed away after being hospitalized for several days. He was one of four people injured when molten slag was suddenly released from a tank that was being cleaned.

“Our heartfelt prayers and sympathy are extended to his family and friends as we keep our primary focus on supporting our employees and their families during this difficult time,” wrote a spokesperson for his employer, BRACE Industrial Group.


TAMPA, FL — Both men killed Thursday at the Big Bend Power Station in Apollo Beach were using pressure washers moments before lava-like slag gushed out of a tank and burned them, according to preliminary reports released Saturday by the Hillsborough County Medical Examiner.

The reports do not list an official cause of death for either man, but both were “covered in slag,” the reports said.

Molten slag can reach temperatures of more than 1,000 degrees. Officials for Tampa Electric said workers were trying to unplug the clogged tank when the accident occurred.

Both Michael McCort, 60, a senior plant manager, and Christopher Irvin, 40, a contract employee, died at the scene. Five others were transported to Tampa General Hospital.

Pressure washing is one of two common ways to clean out the inside of a slag tank, said Walter Godfrey, the president of Fire/Reconstruction Consultants Inc. in Cape Canaveral, which investigates fires and explosions.

“It’s like using a sandblasting unit, except you’re using water instead,” he said.

McCort’s family declined to speak with reporters. His daughter, Heather McCort, posted on Facebook Saturday morning that her father lost his life “helping others and being a hero.”

“The world lost such a wonderful man, husband, grandfather and friend,” she wrote.

Irvin’s family also declined to speak with a reporter Saturday, saying they were in mourning. Irvin was never married, but was a father to one child and was expecting another, the medical examiner wrote. He worked for Gaffin Industrial Services in Riverview, one of Tampa Electric’s contractors at the plant.

In 2007, a Gaffin employee was killed in White Springs while using a power washer to clean the inside of a hot-well tank, according to an investigation by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The worker accidentally clipped his leg with the stream of water, which was so powerful that it cut his femoral artery. Gaffin was fined $35,000.

Four workers injured at the Tampa Electric plant remained in the hospital Saturday with life-threatening burns: Antonio Navarrete, 21, and Armando J. Perez, 56, both of Wimauma; and two Tampa men related by marriage, Frank Lee Jones, 55, and his stepson, Gary Marine Jr., 32.

Marine and Jones worked for Gaffin, like Irvin, the Times reported Friday. Navarrete and Perez worked for BRACE Industrial Group, the Times reported, along with an unidentified fifth worker, who was treated at the hospital and released.

McCort was the only worker who was a Tampa Electric employee.

Family members for the surviving workers could not be reached or declined to comment Saturday.

Tampa Electric spokeswoman Cherie Jacobs said the company could not release new information about the accident Saturday. “This is a very complex investigation and we are unable to provide updates,” she said.

Two investigators from OSHA have started an investigation that could last six months. 


Two people were killed and four others were critically injured Thursday afternoon in a reported explosion at a large coal power plant near Tampa, Fla., authorities said.

Emergency workers responded around 4:20 p.m. to the Big Bend Power Station in Apollo Beach and found six people with severe burns at Unit 2, one of its four coal-fired units. Two people were declared dead at the scene, and the four others were taken to Tampa General Hospital with life-threatening injuries, authorities said.

The workers, who included one plant employee and five contractors, suffered burns and other injuries, said Corey Dierdorff, a spokesman for Hillsborough County Fire Rescue.

“They would be categorized as very severe,” Mr. Dierdorff said at a news conference.

A spokeswoman at Tampa General Hospital said about 7:30 p.m. that it would not immediately release the conditions of the four patients. Two people were taken there by air ambulance and the other two by ground.

Officials with the Big Bend plant, which is operated by Tampa Electric, said the episode occurred while workers were conducting “routine maintenance” on a slag tank at the bottom of Unit 2’s boiler. The tank collects coal slag, a glasslike waste product formed after the remains of burned coal are mixed with cold water. It is sold and reused as an abrasive in products like sandpaper.

The two workers who died at the plant were covered in slag, which can reach temperatures far above 1,000 degrees, authorities said.

“We are looking into what happened,” Cherie Jacobs, a Tampa Electric spokeswoman, said in an interview. “There are few details.”

Mr. ierdorff said about 7 p.m. that the situation was under control and that all other workers had been accounted for. Unit 2 was shut down after the explosion.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the federal agency that investigates workplace accidents, did not immediately respond to an email requesting comment on Thursday night.

The agency levied a $25,200 fine in 1999 against Tampa Electric, which is a division of TECO Energy, for serious safety violations at the Gannon Power Station, another plant in Hillsborough County that now operates under a new name. The safety violations led to an explosion that killed three people and injured dozens more. In 2000, the company paid a $7,000 fine by OSHA in connection to an electrocution and $3,375 for violations related to the housekeeping of coal at Big Bend Power Station.

The Big Bend Power Station sits on about 1,500 acres off a road by the same name on a swath of waterfront land in Hillsborough County, about 15 miles southeast of downtown Tampa. It is among the largest plants in Florida, producing more than 1,700 megawatts of electricity.

The first of its four coal-fired units began service in 1970, according to the company. The second unit, where the accident occurred, went online in 1973. A natural gas and “fuel oil-fired peaking unit” was added eight years ago. The plant also features a “Manatee Viewing Center” that The Tampa Bay Times said is a popular stop among tourists who can see the station’s towering stacks from almost anywhere in the city.


APOLLO BEACH, Fla. (WFLA) – The names of the victims from Thursday’s industrial incident at Tampa Electric’s Big Bend Power Plant were released by the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office. All next of kin were notified.

  • Christopher Irvin (Deceased) age 40, of Tampa
  • Michael McCort  (Deceased) age 60, of Riverview
  • Gary Marine Jr. (life-threatening injuries) age 32, of Tampa
  • Antonio Navarrete (life-threatening injuries) age 21, of Wimauma
  • Frank Lee Jones (life-threatening injuries) age 55, of Tampa
  • Armando J Perez (life-threatening injuries) age 56, of Wimauma
“Our heartfelt thoughts and prayers are with the families of everyone who was touched by this incident,” said Gordon Gillete, president and CEO of Tampa Electric. “Safety is the No. 1 priority at Tampa Electric, and we are working hard to determine exactly what happened and why. We will be conducting a complex investigation to determine the root cause.”

One of the men killed was a TECO employee. All of the other victims were contractors working at the plant.

Gillete said there were courageous efforts in the plant to save the employees and contractors. The injured remain at Tampa General Hospital.

TECO and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration are working together to investigate what happened at the Big Bend Power Plant in Apollo Beach at about 4 p.m. Thursday. OSHA responds when there are work-related deaths or hospitalizations.

It was initially reported as an explosion by authorities, but TECO said it was a release of the molten slag, a leftover by-product from coal boilers at the plant.
What happened:

  • Coal-fired furnace burning above
  • The left over by-product drips down into slag tank below, which contains water
  • The burn-off crystallizes into slag – a crunchy glass-like material
  • The material is still molten hot at that time
  • That’s what spilled onto the employee and contractors
Workers were trying to unplug a hole in the slag tank at Big Bend Unit 2 when the material spilled out. There was vast quantity of slag on the floor – “6-inches deep and 40-feet in diameter,” Gillete said.

The OSHA inspectors were going over a long list of safety and health standards to see whether TECO may have violated standards that could have led to the incident.

“It’s the employer’s responsibility to provide a safe and healthful workplace,” said OSHA spokesman Michael D’Aquino.

Right now, OSHA still has an open investigation, looking into a chemical exposure incident that happened at the plant on May 24. That incident involved the release of Anhydrous ammonia that caused four employees to be hospitalized.

This latest investigation is expected to take several weeks.


APOLLO BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Workers at a Florida power plant were trying to unplug a blocked tank when molten material poured onto them, killing two and injuring four others, officials said Friday.

Tampa Electric President and CEO Gordon Gillette said at a news conference that the incident happened Thursday at a coal-fired boiler, while workers were performing routine maintenance on the slag tank at the plant southeast of Tampa. Slag is a byproduct created when coal is burned for electricity.

Gillette said workers were trying to clear a blockage when hot slag came rushing out onto them — some closer to the tank than others.

"Because of the significant radius, all of those on scene were affected in some way, unfortunately," he said.

Victims sustained burns as well as other injuries that "would be categorized as very severe," fire-rescue officials said.

The two killed Thursday at the Tampa Electric Co. plant were identified as 40-year-old Christopher Irvin and 60-year-old Michael McCort. Four others were seriously injured and were still being treated at a Tampa hospital.

"There were some extraordinarily courageous efforts on the parts of the TECO team members to save the employee and our contractors," Gillette said.

On Friday, two investigators from the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration were at the scene of the explosion.