West Virginia officials apparently plan to increase the training requirements for emergency medical personnel to improve their ability to respond to hazardous material accidents.
Word of the plan emerged Monday, on the fifth anniversary of a propane explosion that killed four people at a Raleigh County convenience store.
U.S. Chemical Safety Board officials said they were told of the plan on Friday, after they issued a news release that criticized West Virginia's Office of Emergency Medical Services for not requiring annual hazardous materials response refresher training for all emergency medical personnel.
To date, training occurs only once every two years. The CSB said it believes "recurrent annual training is critical for responders who must deal with hazardous materials emergencies such as with propane."
Daniel Horowitz, a board spokesman, said his agency heard from the state after issuing a statement to mark the five-year anniversary of the fatal explosion at the Little General Store in Ghent. State officials said that they mailed a letter to the board on Thursday.
"The letter did not arrive as of Friday," Horowitz said. "It was the West Virginia Office of Emergency Medical Services who is making the change to their training requirements for annual hazmat training for EMTs. The staffer said it was put in the mail Thursday and I should receive it sometime this week."
Officials from the medical services office and its parent agency, the Department of Health and Human Resources, did not respond to requests for comment on Monday.
On Jan. 30, 2007, propane gas at the Little General Store was suddenly released through a liquid withdrawal valve during a changeover between two tanks. Two propane technicians from Appalachian Heating, a firefighter and an emergency medical technician were among those killed when the explosion leveled the store.
Killed in the accident were Glenn R. Bennett, 44, of Appalachian Heating; Frederick Allen Burroughs, 51, of Cool Ridge, a Raleigh County building inspector and firefighter; Craig Lawrence Dorsey, 24, of MacArthur, a volunteer firefighter and EMT; and Jeffrey Lee Treadway, 21, of Beckley.
Six others were injured, but board officials said Friday the tragedy could have been even worse, given that the store had not been evacuated when the blast occurred. One of the injured, 74-year-old Donnie Ray Caldwell of Coal City, died in 2010.
CSB investigators concluded that the tanks involved were improperly located less than 10 feet from the store, a problem that propane company employees did not correct despite dozens of inspections. Board investigators also said that propane technicians were not properly trained to spot problems with the tank's valves, and that local emergency responders had not been taught how to properly handle a propane accident.