Contractor identified in massive, fiery San Francisco gas rupture

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The company allegedly responsible for the massive, fiery gas rupture in San Francisco on Wednesday afternoon was identified as a third-party contractor for Verizon, but it was a subcontractor of that company who actually hit the line, state workplace inspectors said.

In a statement emailed to KTVU early Thursday morning, Verizon identified the contractor assigned to the job as the Florida-based MasTec, which describes itself as "infrastructure that delivers."

However Cal/OSHA spokesman Frank Polizzi said it was a subcontractor, identified only as a Kilford Engineering employee, who was operating the excavator when the gas line ruptured.  

Kilford, based in San Francisco, has no prior workplace violations, Polizzi said.

Efforts to reach the company were unsuccessful.

Cal-OSHA opened an inspection with Kilford, the General Contractor MasTec, and another subcontractor Advanced Fiber Works on Thursday to see how the gas line was ruptured, causing a two-hour fire in the Richmond District along Geary Boulevard on Wednesday afternoon. Luckily, no one was injured but five structures, including a popular dim sum restaurant, Hong Kong Lounge II, were severely damaged.

John Higgins, MasTec group president utility services group, said in an email, "on behalf of all of us at MasTec, we want to express our deep concern for those affected by the gas line rupture."

He said that the company is working in close coordination with the public safety officials and his company has initiated an investigation into what happened. He thanked all the fire crews for responding so quickly and expressed thanks that no one was hurt or injured.

On Thursday, the National Transportation Safety Board said an eight-person team will investigate the explosion and that it will release information as it becomes available.

According to firefighters, the contractor was using a backhoe to install fiber optic lines in the  Richmond District when an underground gas line exploded around 1 p.m. at Geary and Parker streets. 

Flames and smoke shot into the air for several hours as PG&E crews worked on a plan to turn off the gas. As of 3:30 p.m. the gas was turned off. The San Francisco Fire Department said the fire was put out at 4:18 p.m. after more than two hours of "free-flowing" fire. 

More: PG&E explains why it took so long to shut the gas off

As many as 100 people are displaced by the fire, according to officials. The Red Cross offered assistance at Mel's Diner, a nearby business located on Geary Blvd. PG&E said as of 4:00 p.m. Thursday they were able to restore gas to the line that was damaged in the explosion. 35 company representatives were going door-to-door to relight pilot lights for 300 customers who are affected by the outage. 41 customers are without electrical service, down from about 2,500 at its peak. 

MasTec is considered one of the largest 10 largest electrical transmission and distribution contractors in the country and it has been fined in the past by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Sky Fox shows the aftermath of the explosion  

In California, OSHA found three prior MasTec violations: Those include a complaint investigation in Palmdale from May 2018,  a complaint investigation in Brea from April 2016 and one accident inspection from August 2015 in Concord related to hazards from a high voltage overhead power line, records show.

Cal/OSHA issued general citations in the first investigation, no citations in the second investigation and one “serious” violation  in the 2015 situation where the initial fine of $6,000 was settled for $3,375, records show.

The Concord incident was a multi-employer inspection, which means MasTec and other employers were working on the site to demolish power lines and were responsible for the hazards posed to workers, Polizzi said. An employee of Excel Electric suffered an electric shock when he cut into a riser that housed a live power line, Polizzi said. 

In 2013, OSHA formed a partnership several electrical transmission and distribution contractors, including MasTec, in an effort to reduce injuries and death among linesmen and electrical workers. 

The partnership, OSHA said, prompted a "noticeable reduction" in injuries and deaths and created a slate of "best practices" for the industry.