Eight workers severely injured in an explosion at the We Energies power plant in Oak Creek have received a $16 million settlement in a civil lawsuit, said their lawyer, Timothy Trecek.
The settlement was announced Thursday on the second anniversary of the explosion.
Alex Trevino, now 24, was the most severely injured worker. He said he was burned on more than 65 percent of his body and spent two months in a coma. He had 40 skin grafts and 17 surgeries.
“There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about it,” Trevino said. “It’s taken a long time, but I’m moving on.”
Trevino, who lives in South Milwaukee, is now a peer support volunteer at Columbia St. Mary’s Regional Burn Center in Milwaukee and plans to go to college. He said he wants to open his own business after completing his education. He said he loved working in the trades, but his injuries were so severe that he no longer is able to do the work.
Trevino and six other workers were employed by ThyssenKrupp Safway Inc., Waukesha. The crew had been hired to build scaffolding inside a dust collector at the power plant on Feb. 3, 2009. The next day, workers from U.S. Fire Protection Inc., Northbrook, Ill., were going to repair the fire-suppression system inside the dust collector.
The explosion occurred when coal dust ignited after landing on a boiler light, according to Trecek. Trevino said there were three workers in the confined space.
“I was standing at the bottom of the hopper,” he said, “on top of a pipe that had 2 1/2 feet of coal dust in it.”
He said he does not remember pain, even though almost all of the skin was burned from his waist down.
“It was like standing next to a campfire,” Trevino said, “but I was the closest one to it.”
Two others in the hopper also were burned but managed to crawl out. The other workers were outside the hopper area and injured by the force of the explosion.
Separate from the lawsuit, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration fined ThyssenKrupp $153,500 and We Energies $147,000 in connection with the incident.
ThyssenKrupp was cited for not providing the workers with fire-retardant clothing, not adequately training them and not flushing or ventilating coal dust from the work site. The company also was cited for letting crews use lights in wire cages that produced heat and ignited the coal dust. OSHA also reported the company should not have let the workers use ordinary metal tools that could have generated sparks.
Trecek said OSHA regulations as well as internal rules for both companies required coal dust be removed before employees entered the hopper. The coal dust was not removed.
OSHA cited We Energies for not informing ThyssenKrupp or U.S. Fire Protection, the general contractor, of the hazards of coal dust in the area.
ThyssenKrupp is not a part of the settlement. Trecek said the company could be the subject of future legal action or another out-of-court settlement.
We Energies spokesman Brian Manthey confirmed the settlement was made by the utility, the general contractor and several insurance companies.
“We continue to believe that we did not cause, and are not responsible for, the accident and the plaintiffs’ injuries,” Manthey said. “The issue of responsibility will be determined by the defendants at a later date.”
In addition to Trevino, the others injured were Trevino’s father, Jose, of Cudahy; Benjamin Buffington, Milwaukee; Jeff Ross, Greenfield; Jacob Ciszewski, St. Francis; and Dale Glodoski and Ryan Bramow, both of Oak Creek.
Trecek declined to say how the money would be divided among the victims, but it comes in addition to the cost of medical treatment.
“It covers lost wages as well as past and future pain and suffering,” Trecek said. “Their recovery is a testament to their spirit, and it says a lot for the skills of those at the St. Mary’s burn unit.”