Firefighters in College Station, TX, home of Texas A&M University, are no strangers to construction collapse emergencies. In 1995, a 250-ton section of a new sporting arena being hoisted into place by cranes crashed six stories to the ground.
That accident resulted in neither deaths nor injuries. Tragically, the same can not be said of the November 1999 Aggie bonfire collapse when nearly 5,000 logs stacked 59 feet high fell. It left 12 people dead, all but one enrolled at Texas A&M.
By comparison, survivors caught most of the breaks in a June 21, 2013, construction collapse at the Texas A&M Equine Complex. Structural steel for a 200-foot-long, 40-foot-tall open-air riding arena crumbled as workers used cranes to lift hanging trusses into place.
The fact that most people on scene were working above ground helped rather than hurt said College Station Fire Department public information officer Bart Humphreys.
“They were using cranes to hoist the steel trusses into place,” he said. “Most of the personnel were using scissor lifts to reach up and bolt the pieces together.
Of the five people injured, none were trapped beneath the fallen steel spans, Humphreys said.
“We didn’t have anyone trapped where we had to lift the steel or shore up anything to get access,” he said. “The people came down on top of the steel.”
No roofing or siding material had been attached at the time of the collapse, Humphreys said. All of the structural steel came down save for several spans on the west end of the building.
“The trusses being lifted into place were at the opposite end of the structure,” he said. “Most of the steel that fell came down in unoccupied areas.”
Although none of the cranes were overturned, the collapse did knock over several of the scissor lift platforms from which personnel were working, Humphreys said.
All the injured were transported to local hospitals within 10 minutes of the fire department’s arrival.
“On arrival we met with the foreman of the construction crew,” Humphreys said. “He accounted for all the workers on the scene.”
Firefighters quickly accessed the best way to reach the injured with the safety of the emergency responders taken into account, he said.
“Because there was very little steel obstructing access with all the injured in plain sight, our plan was a quick attack – get in and get the injured out,” Humphreys said.
Firefighters asked the uninjured members of the construction crew to secure any steel that might still fall from the collapse, he said.
College Station firefighters routinely train at Disaster City, a 52-acre training facility operated by the Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service featuring full-scale, collapsible structures designed to simulate various levels of disaster.
“We don’t have these events very often but we have people who are prepared in that type of response,” Humphreys said. “The collapse at the equine complex was not nearly as complicated as some of the scenarios our responders have trained for.”
Several CSFD personnel serve with Texas Task Force One, an urban search and rescue unit based in College Station, he said. Those that are not search and rescue specialists serve in either a medical or logistics capacity.
The collapsed building was the last of four to be erected in the equine complex. The other buildings were nearing completion. As a state project, it was outside the jurisdiction of municipal building inspectors, Humphreys said.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is conducting an investigation with a report expected within months, said OSHA regional spokeman Juan Rodriguez.
College Station FD made no determination as to the cause of the collapse, Humphreys said.
“Fortunately, we were not charged with having to determine the cause,” he said.