Verizon Contractor Was Working In Area Of Fatal Sun Prairie Explosion

A company building a fiber optics network has identified the subcontractor working in the area before an explosion that killed a Wisconsin firefighter this week.

Bear Communications of Lawrence, Kansas, on Friday said that VC Tech Inc. was working in the Sun Prairie area before Tuesday's blast. Bear Communications said when VC Tech's employees smelled gas, they notified authorities of the gas leak and helped evacuate people before the explosion happened.


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Verizon Wireless has said it had contracted with Bear Communications for the fiber optics project in Sun Prairie, near Madison. In a statement, Bear Communications said no one from its company was present on site when the gas line began leaking.

A search of an Occupational Safety and Health Administration database found no safety violations by VC Tech in the past five years.

Sun Prairie firefighter Capt. Cory Barr, 34, was killed in the blast that destroyed his downtown business, Barr House, at North Bristol and East Main streets.

We Energies spokeswoman Cathy Schulze told WISN 12 News that the company received a call just after 6:30 that a contractor struck a natural gas main. People were in the process of evacuating the area when the explosion occurred at about 7 p.m. The gas was shut off by 9:30 p.m.

"Due to the intensity of the fire, our crews could not safely access the damaged section of main to stop the leak at that point," Schulze said. "To ensure safety, they had to identify other points in the system and then safely navigate those areas before shutting down multiple valves and lines that feed the downtown area."

What’s left of a section of downtown #SunPrairie police escorted us closer to the destruction

— Hillary Mintz (@HILLARY_MINTZ) July 12, 2018

Verizon's statement said the company has not yet been contacted about the investigation but that officials were prepared to work with law enforcement, public safety and public officials.

In a separate statement, a Bear Communications officials offered "condolences and prayers" for Barr's survivors.

"Our prayers also go out to those injured in the accident. We share in the community’s shock and sadness over this tragedy," the statement said.

Verizon's Full Statement:

"Tuesday evening's explosion in Sun Prairie is tragic. Verizon's employees join the community in mourning the loss of a firefighter's life, and we pray for the speedy and complete recovery of those harmed. Verizon contracted with Bear Communications for a fiber project for the Madison area, including Sun Prairie, to improve our wireless network. No Verizon employees were present at the job site. Verizon does contract with local providers in various markets to provide fiber backhaul for our networks. While we have not been contacted about the investigation, both we and Bear are prepared to work with law enforcement, public safety and public officials as they investigate this tragic situation."

Updated Statement from Bear Communications:

"Bear Communications continues to cooperate fully with all parties involved in the investigation of the explosion that took place Tuesday in Sun Prairie. Bear Communications was building a fiber network in the Madison area. As is common on projects like this, Bear Communications subcontracted out certain scopes of work. The work in the Sun Prairie area was performed by VC Tech Inc. VC Tech was working in the area prior to the blast, and when VC Tech's employees smelled gas they notified authorities of the gas leak and assisted in evacuating people from the area before the explosion occurred.

No one from Bear Communications was present on site when the gas line began leaking. The vehicle in the photograph in the media is not owned by Bear Communications and was not operated by any employee of Bear Communications. In Sun Prairie, Bear Communications provides its subcontractors with magnetic signs with the Bear Communications logo for their vehicles.

Again, Bear Communications employees are cooperating fully with investigators. Further comments at this time would not be appropriate given the ongoing investigation."

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