A newly-filed federal lawsuit says two workers killed at a Westar Energy power plant in Kansas died when superheated steam from a faulty safety valve filled the elevator they were riding in last spring.
The suit was filed on behalf of Bailey and Dalton Burchett, the daughter and son of Westar worker Damien “Craig” Burchett of Overbrook, a Westar operations manager who was killed in the June 3 accident along with co-worker Jesse Henson of Manhattan. They did not file suit against Westar but rather against the firm that performed maintenance on the plant.
The suit, filed in Kansas City, Kansas explained the accident happened hours after restarting a turbine that had been shut down for three months was part of a maintenance program.
The power plant northwest of Topeka generates electricity by burning coal to make high-pressure steam, which is then flowed through turbines that drive generators.
Two of the three steam turbines that had been serviced were brought back on line without incident, the lawsuit said.
But the third turbine didn’t come up to full power. Burchett and Henson were sent to investigate a loss of steam at a safety relief valve, which is supposed to vent the steam outside the plant if the pressure in the system gets too high.
The two men took the elevator to the 14th floor of the plant where the steam valve is housed.
“Upon the elevator door opening on the 14th floor, (the men were ) engulfed in flesh boiling steam that had filled the room,” the lawsuit said. “(Burchett) was exposed to the steam release and suffered severe burns that caused him to endure a horrific death.”
“Following the incident, it was determined (the steam relief valve) had either been ripped apart at the flange or had failed all together allowing the steam to fill the room on the 14th floor.
His children are suing the company that did the maintenance work, Team Industrial Services. The company is a multinational firm with an office in Wichita.
The survivors are also suing the Emerson Electric Co., the manufacturer of the steam valve, and Siemens, the giant German industrial firm that built the turbines.