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Recall underway after tank explodes in Eastpointe bar

By: Sara Kandel | Roseville - Eastpointe Eastsider | Published July 24, 2013

 A CO2 tank stored in the back room of Sullivan’s Bar spontaneously exploded June 25.

A CO2 tank stored in the back room of Sullivan’s Bar spontaneously exploded June 25.

Photo by Sara Kandel

EASTPOINTE — The owner of an Eastpointe bar is saying she and many of her regular patrons are lucky to be alive after a CO2 tank spontaneously exploded in the bar’s storage room June 25.

“It was like a bomb went off,” said Dorothy Sullivan, owner of Sullivan’s Bar in the 18000 block of Nine Mile Road in Eastpointe. “Everybody thought it was a bomb that went off. We are just really, really lucky nobody got hurt or killed, because it took out three rooms pretty much — just destroyed them.”

The explosion happened just before 4 p.m. on a Tuesday afternoon when the bar was filling up with happy-hour customers.

“From what I was told, the bar was crowded at the time, but everybody was up front,” said Ed Szymanski, deputy chief and fire marshal in Eastpointe. “There was a lot of damage.”

The tanks were being kept in a storage room, between a walk-in cooler and an office, at the back of the bar. The explosion tore apart the storage room, ripped off the walk-in cooler and office doors, dropped the ceiling in all three rooms and shot pieces of wood and steel throughout all three back rooms, the back hallway and the bathrooms on the other side of the hallway.

“There was a 2-by-4 that went through the cooler, into this wall and it stuck in there, and the only thing that stopped it from coming through to the bar was a stop sign hanging on the wall near the pool table, and people were shooting pool right there at the time it happened,” Szymanski said.

“Had the bar owner been in there getting a case of beer, she would have probably been killed or at least gravely injured.”

The bar owner wasn’t in the back hallway at the time, nor were any customers, and although no one was injured, the circumstances of the explosion weren’t sitting right with Szymanski.

The incident was originally called in as an ice-maker explosion, but after responding firefighters discovered the torn-open CO2 tank, they determined it to be the cause of the explosion.

When Szymanski called the Michigan State Police hazardous materials unit the following day, he was directed to the federal Department of Transportation, the governing body that regulates CO2 tanks.

Sullivan had told Szymanski that the tank was from North American Coil and Beverage Group, an Eastpointe business, and Szymanski passed along that information and details of the explosion to an investigator at the Department of Transportation. Investigators from the regional office in Chicago arrived the following day, and a joint investigation was launched.

The federal government requires that CO2 tanks undergo testing every five years. It turned out the CO2 tank that exploded in the back room of Sullivan’s Bar was 40 years old and hadn’t been tested since 1996, according to Szymanski and an incident report.

The Department of Transportation ordered a full recall on all tanks from North American Coil after further investigation revealed that the company distributed thousands of CO2, nitrogen and beer gas tanks throughout the state, and the likelihood that none of them had been tested as required was high.

“They have been ordered to go retrieve all their cylinders,” Szymanski said. “They are required to, on a daily basis, email how many (tanks) they got and from what businesses. The Department of Transportation is estimating there is anywhere from 500-7,000 cylinders out there.”

No criminal charges have been pressed, but North American Coil faces a plethora of safety violations, each one of which carries a hefty fine, and they are open to civil suits.

Sullivan isn’t pursuing a civil suit right now, but damage from the explosion is estimated at around $100,000 and she has been forced to close the doors of her bar while insurance investigations and repairs are underway.

“I handed it over to my insurance company and I assume they will go after his insurance company to pay for the damages,” Sullivan said. “I have to be here every day during the day because people are coming in to work on the investigation and make estimates of the damage, but I can’t actually say I am open because we don’t have the stuff we need to be open.

“The explosion took out my ice maker — we have no ice, no pop — so I can’t say we are open, but if one of my regulars walks in and wants a beer, I’d give them a bottle. Right now, all I can say is we are really, really lucky no one got hurt. We are just really lucky.”

Attempts to reach North American Coil and Beverage Group were not returned at press time.