Two maintenance employees with the county school system were seriously injured Tuesday morning in a gas explosion near Letcher County Central High School at Ermine.
Tim Miller, 29, of Whitesburg, and David Young, 38, of Kentucky River, a community located between Payne Gap and Kona, were listed in stable condition Tuesday night in the burn unit at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center. Miller was transported by helicopter from the Whitesburg hospital to the Cincinnati hospital. Young was taken by ambulance.
Miller’s father-in-law, Tommy “Tick” Lewis, said the men were working behind the high school where heating units are located when the explosion occurred. The area contains propane tanks, a boiler, a cooling tower and other components of the system used to heat and cool the building.
Lewis said the two men were working on one of two pumps in a manhole where water gathers as a byproduct of the HVAC system’s steam boiler when the mishap took place.
“Tim went down into that hole that is about 10 feet deep,” Lewis explained. “Dave was leaning down watching Tim. When (Tim) unplugged one of the pumps, it caused a spark, which ignited the gas that was in the manhole. Where the gas came from I don’t know. They are trying to determine where the gas came from. It could have been methane gas.”
Lewis said Miller suffered burns on 40 percent of his body, with second-degree burns on his stomach, hands and arms. He said Miller also suffered burns to his face, but that Miller’s eyes are okay.
“It burned both of their T-shirts off ,” said Lewis, who was able to visit with Miller at the scene shortly after the explosion.
“He was conscious and alert,” said Lewis. “The danger now is pneumonia and infection.”
A friend of the Miller family said both men are doing great and were talking and joking Tuesday evening.
She said Young could be released from the hospital today (Wednesday).
David Young and his wife Pricey have a teen-aged daughter, Courtney. Tim Miller is married to Susan Lewis Miller.
Lewis praised school officials and personnel at the Whitesburg hospital for how well they reacted to the incident.
“They really were great in how they reacted to a situation like this,” said Lewis. “You could tell they had really worked on their disaster plans.”
Miller and Young expressed appreciation to the first responders especially Ricky Adams, whom Miller credits with saving his life.
Letcher County Schools Supt. Anna Craft said the high school would remain closed Wednesday to let officials finish their investigation into the cause of the explosion.
Craft said students and faculty were immediately evacuated from the school building after the explosion and directed to a parking lot at the far end of the building. Students were then loaded onto spare buses to keep them warm until regular buses arrived to take them home. Students whose parents normally pick them up from school were taken to the old Whitesburg High School to wait for their parents.
Craft said she is proud of the way in which students handled the situation.
“The students acted in such an adult manner,” said Craft. “That is the importance of a mock drill.”
Craft said no students were injured and no damage was done to the school building.
Letcher County Emergency Management Director Paul Miles said the state fire marshal’s office is conducting the investigation.