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More than a dozen injured; 1 killed in explosion at metal manufacturing facility near Bedford

Deceased is 46-year-old man from North Ridgeville
Oakwood foundry explosion
explosion.jpg
Posted at 3:12 PM, Feb 20, 2023

OAKWOOD VILLAGE, Ohio — A 46-year-old maintenance worker has been identified as the lone death in a massive explosion and fire at a metal foundry in Oakwood Monday afternoon. The victim, identified as Steven Mullins, had been working at I. Schumann & Co. for nearly 30 years, according to company officials.

A total of 13 other workers were injured in the explosion and subsequent fire. Oakwood fire officials said the cause of the explosion remains under investigation but it appears that the blast originated at or near a kettle-like piece of equipment at the foundry, which holds molten metals before being poured into molds.

Oakwood Fire Captain Brian DiRocco said the Ohio State Fire Marshal's Office has taken the lead on the investigation due to its size, complexity and Mullins' death.

"The [damage in] the interior of the building is pretty catastrophic. We were working this morning with a structural engineer to see where was safe for us to conduct our investigation," DiRocco said. "The damage is pretty extensive. This morning, the investigators were combing through the debris trying to find the origin and the cause."

The state fire marshal's office was joined by investigators from multiple state and federal agencies, including the EPA and OSHA.

Shortly after 2 p.m. on Monday, emergency crews responded to I. Schumann & Co. for reports of an explosion and subsequent fire that blew debris over neighboring businesses, streets and cars. Located in the 22500 block of Alexander Road in Oakwood, the business is a brass and bronze alloy manufacturer. On Monday evening, a company spokesperson released a statement that said the company intended to work alongside investigators.

The company released the following statement about the explosion:

"An explosion of unknown origin struck our Bedford, Ohio facility today resulting in injuries to employees and significant damage to the facility. Our efforts now are focused on supporting the first responders who came on scene quickly to help our employees. The safety and health of our employees is our top priority and we commit to ensuring they receive the medical care they need. We will work alongside investigators in their search for answers as part of our commitment to Northeast Ohio where we have been operating for more than 100 years. Our thoughts and prayers are with our team members and their families at this difficult time."

Authorities said there were multiple burn victims taken from inside the plant to nearby hospitals. One person was taken by LifeFlight helicopter and flown to a hospital for treatment. Mullins was pronounced dead at the scene.

Oakwood immediately called upon mutual aid after arriving on scene Monday afternoon. DiRocco said more than 50 firefighters from 14 area departments provided mutual assistance, many of whom stayed throughout the night to help secure the scene. The explosion, which some witnesses described as a bomb going off, caused extensive and catastrophic damage to the building, effectively blowing out the entire exterior wall on the northern edge of the plant. Large chunks of brick, stone, pipes — even part of a steel I-beam — were launched more than a football field from the site. The blast also appears to have blown open a large hole in the roof of the facility.

When asked what would or could cause an explosion of that magnitude, DiRocco said he couldn't speculate.

"There are several causes to explosions. What caused it there... I couldn't speak on that," Capt. DiRocco said. "The building was in good standing. The have been in the village for a very long time. Any time they have had a violation — even if it is a small one — they have fixed whatever it is."

DiRocco said the facility underwent annual fire inspections.

"It’s the largest fire I have ever had to handle," Dirocco said. "It’s one of the largest here in Oakwood in a very long time. When we arrived on scene, there was a very large debris field, which is essentially that front half of the building which blew off."

I. Schumann & Co. gave the following statement Tuesday regarding Mullins' death:

"It is with heavy hearts that we confirm the passing of Steven Mullins, one of our valued colleagues and good friend to all. Steve was with the company for nearly 30 years working in our maintenance group. He will be greatly missed, and our thoughts are with his family at this time. We would like to thank the many first responders whose quick action following our accident yesterday ensured our employees who needed medical care got it quickly. There is no immediately available information regarding a cause for this accident. We expect it will take time before we know more. We intend to cooperate with OSHA and other officials in their investigation as we search for answers in this tragic accident. We are working with our employees regarding their needs while the facility is idle and hope to have clarity on our operations in the near future."

According to federal inspection data, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration fined I. Schumann & Co. in 2019 and again in 2022. In 2019, investigators said an employee suffered third degree burns to his chest and back after spilling molten metal onto his clothing, which was not fire resistant or fire retardant.

"An employee obtained a metal sample by inserting a ladle into a pot of molten metal located inside a heated oven," the investigation summary states. "The employee was unaware that the molten metal had splashed onto his coveralls setting his clothing on fire. The employee was not wearing FR coveralls or an aluminized overcoat. He suffered third degree burns to his abdomen and back and was hospitalized."

OSHA cited and fined the company $33,000 but the fine was later reduced to $12,000. In 2022, OSHA cited the company after employees were determined to have been exposed to lead at concentrations greater than 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air over a period of eight hours. Those violations are still being settled, according to federal documents.

Monday's explosion was so powerful, bricks from the building were thrown across the parking lot. The brick wall of the building was completely blown away. Bricks struck cars and nearby businesses. They flew across the street in the blast along with other debris like steal beams, rebar and large metal pieces.

One person, Joe Sarconi, who was eating lunch in his car across the street, told News 5 what it was like to be there when the explosion happened.

"I'm finishing my porkchop from Tasty Take-Outs, like I usually do...finished my porkchop, cleaning out the interior, put the bag in...next thing you know—BOOM," Sarconi said. "I looked over and it was just...boom. Ridiculous, I don't know how nothing hit me."

Firefighters responding to explosion at metal manufacturing facility near Bedford

Joe Kopac said he felt lucky, despite damage to his 1-month old pickup truck. Bricks, rebar and flaming pieces of metal dented his roof and fender, cracked his headlight and left burn marks on the asphalt parking lot. Another nearby car caught fire when the debris rained down. Kopac had parked his truck and got out less than a minute earlier.

“[I heard a] loud bang and then I saw the van next to the building shaking," said Kopac. "Then I turned around and saw that.”

Crews responding to Bedford explosion

Others who work in the industrial area said they were driving to work when they saw the chaos.

“I see a fire, I see power lines, I’m seeing a truck on fire with smoke and everything," recalled Immanuel Brown, who works at a company across the street from Schumann. "Next thing I know, people are telling me, ‘Oh it’s an explosion.’ I see people on the ground. Somebody looked like they were hurt."

Adam Kobosky added, “I just saw a big, black cloud… like that whole side was all black.”

Oakwood Fire said EMS triaged workers from the plant with varying injuries from the explosion and molten metal.

“It seemed like a lot of burn victims, a lot of burn injuries. But people were mostly walking wounded. They were coming up to us,” said Dirocco.

At least one person was in critical condition when 13 people were transported from the scene to area hospitals by ambulance and helicopter. One man later died.

The Broadview Heights Fire Department said it has received reports of a "burning oil" smell in the area. Authorities said they believe that is likely from the site of the explosion and the odor may last a while. Wadsworth Police said its residents are experiencing a similar smell in the area as well.

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