Statewide Response To Worker Trapped In Collapsed Building

Mickey Conboy describes the harrowing experience shared by rescue workers as they worked 14 1/2 hours to free a man trapped in a building collapse.


It was a cold and damp afternoon on Wednesday, April 24, 1996, in Tonawanda, NY, north of Buffalo. Just after 4 P.M., Andrew Farber, an employee of a demolition company, was preparing to make the last cuts to bolts securing the structural steel columns on the first floor of the former foundry...


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After being briefed on the type of material trapping the victim and the actions taken, the team of rescue firefighters recommended that the officials on scene call for specific tools and equipment. This was done to insure their availability and prevent delays in the rescue operation; also, if any of the tools or equipment were not available, the rescuers would know that they might have to change their rescue plan.

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Photo by Mickey Conboy
Rescuers use an oxyacetylene torch to speed up the cutting operations at the second access hole.

 


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Photo by Mickey Conboy
Interior of the void in which Andrew Farber spent 14 1/2 hours before being rescued. Note the OS&Y valve that created the opening in the void.

 

The tools and equipment requested included a hydraulic system with a diamond segmented chain saw, cutoff saw and pavement breaker. This tool was requested because the floors were made of reinforced concrete and, if needed, it would facilitate breaking and breaching operations. A half-inch plasma cutter was requested because it could quickly cut the several layers of sheet iron and other metal plates directly above the victim. The tools were procured from local tool and construction equipment companies. Oxyacetylene torches were also requested and the team was told that several setups were already at the scene. The team also asked how much shoring capability was available and was told that a truckload of four-by-four and six-by-six lumber was on scene.

At the command post, Kohn continued to coordinate operations and the requests for assistance from various local, county, state and private agencies. He was being assisted with communications and staging by Mallick, Dave Krieman of the State Health Department, Robert Schultz of the Erie County Department of Emergency Services and chiefs from other volunteer fire departments. The demolition company brought in an 80-ton truck crane from a construction project 30 miles away. With operations expanding, it was felt that if a secondary collapse occurred, the structure could be lifted off any trapped rescuers. Because of stormy weather in the New York City area, the command post was notified that the state police were unable to fly Downey to the scene by helicopter.

Rousseau arrived on the scene at 2 o'clock the following morning with the team of FDNY rescue firefighters. The team members were briefed by officials on the scene in the back of a rescue truck near the building with a monitor from the fiber optic camera set up to show them the void space in which the victim was trapped. The actions taken prior to their arrival were explained and then they were brought into the collapsed building where operations were taking place. The team surveyed the area around the hole leading to the void space trapping Farber. The team was told that no secondary movement had occurred since the initial collapse, and that the surveyor's transit set and continuous monitoring had not detected any movement.

To access the void space, a rescuer had to lie upside down on his back and crawl three feet down into the void. Farber was trapped about three feet into the hole. He said his head and upper body were pinned but he could move his one arm and his legs. He was alert, oriented and in good spirits he just wanted to get out of there as soon as possible.

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Photo by Mickey Conboy
Andrew Farber emerges from the void, surrounded by the rescuers who freed him.

Rescuers passed a tape measure past Farber's left shoulder and measured the void space; it extended two feet past his upper body. The OS&Y valve could be seen just in front of his head. Looking into the space above the void, six layers of sheet iron and corrugated aluminum were counted. Members of Buffalo Rescue Company 1 had started another access hole several feet away in the direction behind Farber's upper body. A measurement was taken to pinpoint the location for making the access that would ultimately free Farber. The concrete floor was determined to be in stable condition with no visible cracks from below or visible on the fiber-optic monitor.