Did Code Violation Lead to Death of Master Plumber?

Fire marshal says purged propane line wasn’t properly vented, safety expert doubts true cause of home explosion will be known
Did Code Violation Lead to Death of Master Plumber?
Roger Charpentier Jr.

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A plumber who died in August from burns sustained in a home explosion did not vent the propane line he was purging to the outside as required by Massachusetts code, according to the state fire marshal’s office.

“He was connecting a new 500-gallon propane tank to new propane-fueled furnace,” says Jennifer Mieth, public information officer. “Both the tank and the furnace had been installed a few months before. He was purging the lines and was supposed to have a nipple and cap on the end of the purged line with a hose to the outside, which he did not. That led to an accumulation of propane in the building, which was ignited by the pilot on the hot water heater. The house was lifted off its foundation.”

Roger Charpentier Jr., 68, a master plumber, attempted to extinguish the fire before fleeing the home. He sustained burns over much of his body and was airlifted to a Boston hospital where he died. No one else was in the building at the time of the blast.

Purged line should not have caused explosion

Mark Hughes, U.S. national service manager for Laars Heating Systems Company in Rochester, New Hampshire, says simply purging a gas line, even if done incorrectly, should not have caused an explosion. Something else had to have gone wrong.

“It doesn’t take that long to bleed a gas line to make it functional, even if you’re not doing it the way Massachusetts is saying you should have done it,” Hughes says. “It doesn’t take that long to bleed out a gas line that you would have enough gas in the building to literally explode.

Blast lifted house off foundation

The fire marshal’s office said the explosion lifted the house 6 to 12 inches off the foundation.

“That’s a lot of propane,” Hughes says. “For arguments sake, if you would have a gas line coming from the tank, unscrew the cap and literally light the gas that was coming out the pipe, you would have a torch. There’s no doubt about it. But it’s typically a controlled burn because it’s going through the regulator. If something ignited enough gas to blow the house 6, 8 inches, there’s a collection of gas in the building – quite a bit of gas – like someone hadn’t closed a valve for a period of time.”

Hughes says typically with an outside tank and 50 feet of pipe between the tank and the house you would only need to bleed the line for a minute – two at the most – before you knew you had gas. At that point you would connect the line to the equipment you’re working on and fire the equipment.

“It’s up to the individual state or municipality whether it needs to be vented,” he says. “Gas regulators, some of the gas valves themselves need to be vented to the outside of the building during normal operation. I’m not familiar with Massachusetts code. And personally I’ve never been on a job where a line hasn’t already been bled out, at least to the gas valve or the appliance. Then again, I’m not familiar with putting a hose on a drip leg or a nipple that has a cap on it. I’m not sure how that’s set up.”

Best to always follow safety procedures

Hughes says the best advice is to always follow proper procedures, regulations and codes for whatever you do.

“We always say, as long as you’re doing the work according to the manufacturer’s installation manual, then things are pretty safe. Something else happened here. I’m sure it’s something we’ll never know because, unfortunately, he’s not around to tell us what he really did.”


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