WASHINGTON -- Officials said the hope to reopen Bryan Memorial Town Hall In Washington Depot on Monday after an explosion caused by a gas leaking from a propane tank that was damaged when a car drove over it early Sunday.
Washington Fire Chief Mark Showalter said several firefighters escaped serious injury when the vapor cloud that infiltrated the building ignited just before they entered the basement to turn off an emergency generator prior to cutting power to the town hall.
The explosion blew out at least a half-dozen of the large, original, arched windows and caused an undetermined amount of internal damage to the stately, Depression-era structure, officials said.
Showalter said a fire did not erupt.
First Selectman Mark Lyon said the leak was triggered about 1 a.m. Sunday when a catering company worker drove over a filler pipe for the 1,000-gallon tank buried in the lawn while cleaning up after a wedding.
The tank, which supplies an emergency generator, immediately began leaking and gas quickly entered the building through open doors and windows, Lyon said.
Lyon said the driver, whose name wasn't available Sunday evening, had the "presence of mind" to set off a fire alarm outside the building and get other catering employees out of the building before firefighters arrived.
A heavy cloud of gas settled over the low-lying area off Route 109 and firefighters wanted Connecticut Light & Power to cut the electricity supply to reduce chances for a blast, Showalter said.
But first, it was necessary to enter the building and switch off the generator, which is designed to start automatically when the power goes off, he said.
Firefighters were about to go in when "something in the boiler room" apparently sparked the explosion, he said.
Firefighters from several area departments, including Sharon, Cornwall and Northville, responded to the mutual-aid call, but because the car remained stuck on the pipe, they were unable to move it and cap the tank, Lyon said.
For hours, all they could do was cordon off the building at the intersection of Route 109 and Bryan Memorial Plaza, and direct a heavy mist of water from a fire hose to disperse the gas, Showalter said.
About 1 p.m., the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection dispatched a contractor with expertise in controlling propane leaks. He formulated a plan by which firefighters, working under a heavy spray of water, would use a bucket loader to lift the car off the pipe while he installed a valve that would allow the tank to be emptied by a controlled burn-off, Showalter said.
By 4 p.m., the last of the gas was gone. Firefighters cleared the scene some 30 minutes later.
Lyon said state and local fire marshals were still at town hall early Sunday evening trying to determine what caused the explosion. The town's building official has inspected the building and pronounced it "structurally sound," he said.
Power to the area around town hall has been restored, although the building itself remains without electricity.
"Hopefully, we'll be able to get in there Monday morning and get it open sometime during the day," Lyon said.