1 hurt in explosion at Standard Steel

BURNHAM – An employee is in critical condition in an Allentown hospital after an explosion and fire occurred Wednesday afternoon at Standard Steel in Burnham.

Standard Steel reported in a press release that the explosion took place at around 2:30 p.m. Wednesday. Mifflin County Regional Police Department said the incident occurred in a building that is used as a locker room and shower area by employees. The building, which an employee who spoke on the condition of anonymity said was largely empty, is located between the machine shop and axle shop, adjacent to the plant’s shipping and receiving facility.

Public Safety Director Phil Lucas said the report came into the Mifflin County Communications Center about five minutes after the blast and fire departments in the area were on the scene quickly. Lucas said at the time of the incident the initial cause was still undetermined, but that police were investigating.

“We believe it to be a mechanical failure of some kind,” he said. “It didn’t have anything to do with manufacturing, it was not where they melt the steel or anything like that.”

MCRPD Cpl. Arthur Stanton said the explosion was caused by a gas leak. He said the explosion occurred in a washroom that is attached to a storage facility.

“The explosion happened during a shift change,” Stanton said. “This helped to minimize the injuries.”

The washroom where the explosion happened is used by employees to shower and change clothes after a shift. Stanton also said the explosion caused a small section of the building and a nearby awning to collapse.

One employee, James Stringfellow, of Reedsville, was injured in the explosion, and all other employees were accounted for. Stringfellow was transported to the Lehigh Valley Hospital Burn Center, where he is listed in critical condition, according to an on call public relations correspondent at the hospital.

A member of Stringfellow’s family told The Sentinel that he was responsive prior to being flown to the burn center and that a Mifflin County emergency medical technician told the family member that Stringfellow had burns over about 20 percent of his body, and they were believed to be first- and second-degree burns.

The family member also said Stringfellow identified the device that exploded as a gas-fueled, on-demand water heater. This family member said Stringfellow said he smelled gas in the room and tried to leave ahead of the explosion.

The statement from Standard Steel said routine plant operations were not affected and operations throughout the day continued as scheduled with no interruptions.