YOUNG MAN KILLED WHEN FIRE EXTINGUISHER BECOMES HIGH-SPEED MISSILE: FIRE EQUIPMENT SERVICE COMPANY TO PAY $6 MILLION TO FAMILY
May 9, 2017
Mobile, Ala. – Fyr-Fyter Sales & Service, Inc., a company based in Mobile, Alabama offering regional fire protection services to businesses and industry in the local area, has agreed to the payment of $6 million to settle a wrongful death lawsuit filed by Cunningham Bounds, LLC on behalf of the parents of David Thomas Sells. Mr. Sells was 25 years old and employed as a facilities compliance assistant for Infirmary Health at the time of his death.
As a part of its fire suppression and fire equipment servicing business, Fyr-Fyter had a standing business relationship with Infirmary Health for decades prior to Mr. Sells’ death, and regularly serviced and maintained Infirmary Health’s fire protection and suppression systems. In early 2014, Infirmary Health contracted with Fyr-Fyter to decommission a large, high-pressure Halon fire suppression system located at an Infirmary Health satellite facility. During that decommissioning process, Fyr-Fyter disconnected a nearly 300-pound liquid Halon cylinder from the suppression system and moved it to a storage room on Infirmary Health’s main campus, where Infirmary Health stored its spare fire extinguishers.
By design, Halon cylinders utilized in Halon fire suppression systems throughout the world will, upon manual or automatic activation, spontaneously release the full contents of the liquid Halon fire suppression agent within a ten second window-of-operation. The conversion of the liquid Halon to Halon gas at the instant of its release into the atmosphere results in a volumetric expansion of the liquid as it transforms to gas, and the simultaneous development of enormous thrust-force as the liquid-to-gas mixture seeks to escape from its containment cylinder. The Halon cylinder in question in this case was capable of generating in excess of one thousand pounds of thrust-force through its discharge port. The manufacturer of the cylinder, together with fire suppression and safety experts worldwide, have long recognized that in the event of an accidental discharge, this amount of thrust-force is sufficient to transform an unsecured Halon cylinder into a high-speed rocket. In order to prevent the catastrophic consequences of an accidental spontaneous discharge or release of the liquid Halon contents into the atmosphere, Halon cylinders are equipped with a safety-diffuser cap designed by the manufacturer of the cylinder to be installed over the discharge port any time the cylinder is not connected to a fire extinguishing system piping network. When installed, the safety-diffuser cap reduces the thrust-force of the cylinder to less than ten pounds.
The evidence in the case ultimately demonstrated that when Fyr-Fyter disconnected the Halon cylinder from the piping network and moved it to the storage room, a steel pipe-coupling that had been used to connect the cylinder to the piping network was not removed from the discharge port of the cylinder as prescribed and cautioned by the manufacturer, thus blocking the safety-diffuser cap from being installed on the discharge port, and defeating the primary safety feature intended by the cylinder designer and manufacturer to prevent catastrophic accidental discharges.
Thereafter, the cylinder remained in the Infirmary’s storage room for 33 days – uncapped, unsecured and imminently dangerous – a ticking time bomb awaiting its appointed time.
Early in the morning of April 16, 2014, David Thomas Sells was working alone in the storage room verifying expiration dates on smaller, hand-held fire extinguishers. While Mr. Sells was in the storage room, the Halon cylinder suddenly and without warning catastrophically discharged. Because the safety-diffuser cap was not installed over the discharge port of the cylinder, the cylinder recoiled and rocketed through the windowless concrete block storage room, causing what ear-witnesses described as an explosive discharge.
Within minutes of the discharge, 30 to 50 hospital personnel responded to the storage room. As responders arrived, a vapor-like haze was seen billowing from the vents in the room. The responders that entered the room described it as a “war zone.” The fluorescent light ballasts which had been affixed to the ceiling were stripped from their mounts and swung from the ceiling by their electrical cables. A large hole was found in one of the concrete block walls of the room; numerous red-paint transfers from the glancing blows of some unidentified but high-speed, red-painted flying object were found on all four walls, the ceiling and the floor of the room; and dozens of smaller fire extinguishers were damaged and scattered throughout the room. Mr. Sells was discovered lying in the center of the room, still alive, but suffering from a head injury that would claim his life three weeks later.
Following the incident, Infirmary Health enlisted personnel from Fyr-Fyter to assist with the determination and documentation of the cause of the incident. Much later, Cunningham Bounds was able to establish that Fyr-Fyter had used its position as a primary component of the Mobile Infirmary’s investigative team to orchestrate and execute an elaborate cover-up and subterfuge designed to focus attention away from the inappropriately decommissioned and stored Halon cylinder.
Just prior to trial, Fyr-Fyter’s service manager conceded under oath that despite being expressly instructed by Infirmary Health personnel to document and preserve all evidence found at the scene on the day of the disaster, he had nevertheless secretly embarked on a course of conduct that same afternoon which resulted in the alteration of critical evidence (his deliberate and entirely secretive removal of the coupling from the discharge port of the Halon cylinder without permission and without any documentation whatsoever); the deliberate concealment of that same evidence with the intent of keeping its existence, its whereabouts and its role in the disaster which claimed the life of Mr. Sells from coming to light (his taking of the coupling out of the storage room, the placement of it in his truck in the parking lot adjacent to the scene of the disaster, and his concealment of the coupling in his office thereafter for the next two years); and his after-the-fact placement of the safety-diffuser cap on the discharge port of the cylinder, all in an effort to make it appear that Fyr-Fyter had indeed stored the cylinder with its safety-diffuser cap appropriately installed as intended by the manufacturer and designer, thus eliminating the cylinder as a potential cause of the ballistic discharge in the storage room and the injuries which ultimately claimed the life of David Thomas Sells. In the end, Fyr-Fyter personnel admitted under oath that they had actively concealed from Infirmary Health and others on the investigative team the fact that they had actually weighed the Halon cylinder at the accident scene on the afternoon of the explosion for the express purpose of determining whether its contents (140 lbs. of liquid Halon) had been released during the incident, and had concluded that it had, in fact, discharged during the incident earlier that day.
“This is without a doubt the most flagrant example of corporate cover-up I have seen in my nearly 40 years as a lawyer. From the moment of his arrival on the scene of what can only be described as the horrifying and tragic loss of an entirely innocent and exceptional young man, Fyr-Fyter’s service manager recognized the errors Fyr-Fyter personnel had made in the decommissioning, transportation, and storage of what had effectively become a dangerously defective armed rocket, and initiated a plan and scheme which would include wrongfully removing from the scene of the disaster the critical evidence of Fyr-Fyter’s own misdeeds – then concealing that evidence as well as Fyr-Fyter’s own spoliative misconduct from Infirmary Health, the Sells family, and the Judges of the Circuit Court of Mobile County for almost three years – and, in the end, leading everyone on an extended and extraordinarily expensive wild goose chase which very nearly succeeded in pulling the wool over the eyes of those of us in search of the truth.
When the Sells family first came to us, they only had one question:
‘WHAT HAPPENED TO OUR SON?’
Fortunately, in the end we were able to provide a truthful and complete answer to that question, and, in the process, expose the lengths to which Fyr-Fyter was willing to go in its efforts to conceal its own guilt and to deny the Sells family justice and the peace which could only come from a revelation of the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth,” said Buddy Brown of Cunningham Bounds, LLC.
The Sells family was represented by Billy Bonner and Buddy Brown of Cunningham Bounds, LLC in Mobile, Alabama.