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Wilkie: Worker killed in West Haven blast was 'the example of what we all strive to be'

By BRIAN ZAHN | New Haven Register, Conn. | Published: November 17, 2020

WEST HAVEN, Conn. (Tribune News Service) — Euel Sims Jr. never stopped serving.

Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie named Sims, who retired after 21 years in the Navy Seabees, as one of two men killed in the explosion Friday at the West Haven Veteran's Affairs medical center.

"He was the example of what we all strive to be," Wilkie said. "When he left the Navy, his desire was to continue to serve those who served."

Sims, a native of Chicago and longtime resident of Connecticut, was working as a plumbing executive at the medical center at the time of his death.

The explosion, which occurred during the replacement of a steam pipe, killed two people and injured three others. The second victim, a contractor with Mulvaney Mechanical in Danbury, has not been named.

Wilkie, who was in West Haven Tuesday to tour the facility in the wake of the deadly explosion, said there is a joint federal and state investigation into the incident. He would not confirm any details, citing the ongoing investigation.

Wilkie, who was nominated to his post by Republican U.S. President Donald Trump, complimented Gov. Ned Lamont, a Democrat, for his collaboration "in this divisive time."

"He has always been there for veterans," he said.

U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said Monday he would will push for federal funding to address aging VA facilities nationwide.

"I will urge a major commitment and investment" toward aging VA facilities, Blumenthal, who for years has advocated to address issues at the West Haven hospital, said Monday. "But obviously this one [in West Haven] will be at the very top of the list."

Fire Chief James O'Brien confirmed Monday the cause of the explosion remains under investigation.

The building, which dates back to the 1950s, has a history of issues. Blumenthal last year ordered an inspection of the hospital after receiving whistleblower complaints.

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