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Firefighter injured in Greenwood explosion suing Puget Sound Energy

Seattlefirefighter Jeff Markoff is shown shortly after the Greenwood explosion on March 9, 2016. He is suing Puget Sound Energy. (Courtesy of Q13)

 Jeff Markoff is among nine Seattle firefighters who were injured in the March 9, 2016, blast caused by a natural-gas leak. Damage was estimated at $3 million.

A Seattle firefighter who says he was knocked out by the force of the Greenwood natural-gas explosion last year is suing Puget Sound Energy (PSE) and its contractor over the blast.

In the lawsuit filed Friday, Jeff Markoff said he was about 90 feet from the epicenter of the alleyway explosion that leveled two buildings and damaged dozens more. He said he has since experienced “ongoing cognitive difficulties, severe headaches, hearing loss, disturbances such as recurring images after the explosion, memory loss” and other health issues.

Markoff, 50, said in an interview Monday that the explosion “blew me and pretty much everybody standing in that back alley onto our faces.”

Two-by-fours and concrete rained over his head, he said.

Markoff, who has been with the Seattle Fire Department for about 18 years, said he has only missed three or four shifts following the explosion.

“We’re used to picking ourselves up and dusting ourselves off after something like this,” he said. But, since the explosion, he’s noticed changes he thinks correlate to the blast.

“I can probably count the number of headaches I’ve had in my life on one hand, maybe two,” Markoff said. “Now it’s almost a daily occurrence.”

In his left ear, which was facing the blast, he often hears a high-pitched ringing, he said. Sometimes, he gets distracted during household tasks. Loud noises startle him.

In addition to compensation for his injuries, Markoff’s lawsuit requests that the court order PSE to inspect and remediate its gas pipelines “to protect the public from a grave harm.”

“The most important part of the lawsuit is to make sure Puget Sound Energy has no choice but to do a comprehensive analysis of its pipelines, and particularly its abandoned pipelines to make sure they’ve been capped and cut off and are no danger to the public,” Cochran said.

Markoff was among nine firefighters who were injured in the March 9, 2016, blast.

 The firefighters had responded to a report of a natural-gas leak near Greenwood Avenue North and North 85th Street around 1:04 a.m. As the firefighters were trying to pinpoint the source of the leak, a huge explosion ripped through a building at about 1:40 a.m.

All were treated at a Seattle hospital and released the same day.

 A state Utilities and Transportation Commission investigation found that employees of a contractor hired by PSE for pipeline maintenance did not properly cut and cap the gas line, which allowed gas to flow to a retired line.

In March, PSE reached a $1.5 million settlement with the Utilities and Transportation Commission (UTC) over the March 2016 explosion. The settlement calls for PSE to complete “a comprehensive inspection and remediation program” of thousands of retired gas lines.

It the utility does not comply, it will have to pay another $1.25 million.

UTC commissioners have not yet approved the settlement terms, but discussed it at a Monday meeting. The commission will likely make a decision this summer, according to a UTC spokeswoman.

PSE spokeswoman Janet Kim said the utility would not comment on Markoff’s lawsuit because it is pending litigation.

“We’re committed to the safety of our community, and we don’t want to have a Greenwood-type event again,” Kim said.

She added PSE had already begun working on an inspection program for its retired gas infrastructure and had worked with the Seattle Fire Department on improving training for first responders to gas leaks.

Markoff said he thinks PSE needs to be “held accountable so this doesn’t happen again — so guys that I work with don’t have to face something like this.”

“I know the UTC commission has already fined them, and that’s all fine and good, but they’re not the ones that were there that night and almost lost their lives,” Markoff said. “I just don’t think it’s enough.”

Markoff said he has had near-death experiences as a firefighter before. He said he understood and was willing to accept the risks of his profession, but was troubled to read investigators’ case summary after the explosion.

“Gas leaks in people’s apartments are something that go on all the time. Gas explosions happen … mistakes are made,” he said “But this was no mistake.”

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