Crane Flips Over & Pins Operator Under Crushed Cab

A report of an overturned crane brought multiple agencies and resources together. The challenges consisted of: accessibility, the instability of the crane, and entrapment. Read how the incident was mitigated.


Shortly after 2:30 P.M., on Aug. 30, 2011, the Rochester, NY, Fire Department (RFD) was dispatched to a reported crane toppled over with possible injuries. On arrival, Battalion Chief Dave Bagley announced he had a crane flipped over near the water.

What made the situation especially challenging was the crane’s location. It had been working at the base of a multi-section dam that was being renovated as part of a power company project. The crane was moving wedge-shaped concrete pieces used to provide a level platform for the crane to operate on. As the crane moved one of the wedges, it tipped toward the Genesee River and flipped over. The crane’s boom landed in the water below and the balance of the 30-ton crane’s cab and chassis came to rest on the edge of the dam’s lower lip.

The crane’s operator was pinned under the crushed cab. The responders knew he was conscious and under the crane with extremely limited access to his body. The exact nature of his entrapment and the amount of injury was impossible to determine initially. Due to the location of the incident, many components of the RFD’s response capabilities were used along with multiple assisting agencies being called to the scene.

Flow restricted

With the proximity of the water being one of the first concerns, a request was made through the 911 center to notify the power company to slow the flow of the river in the area through the use of upriver dams that exist throughout the city. Rochester is bisected by the Genesee River, which runs north to Lake Ontario. This configuration provides multiple locations where hydropower has been captured for many years. Slowing the flow has secondary ramifications; due to the recent rains from Hurricane Irene, the entire region was experiencing significant runoff. The longer the flow was restricted, additional upstream flooding conditions could be created.

First-arriving companies were now faced with their second challenge – accessing the scene. To reach the crane the responders had to cross the top deck of the dam, then descend approximately 40 feet using a ladder mounted to one of the structures of the dam. Thousands of pounds of equipment were hand carried a few hundred yards to the top of the dam, then lowered to the crane’s location.

Once responders reached the crane, a number of events began to take place simultaneously:

  • Command was established and scene control was initiated. The remote location played a positive role in this process by making access control very manageable. With the proximity of the river and the uncertain stability of the toppled crane, unnecessary movement and people in the area could have proven disastrous.
  • The RFD’s Water Rescue Team was dispatched. The team deployed an inflatable rescue boat downstream and placed other team members along the downstream river shore as safety lookouts in the event of a land-based responder fell into the river.
  • The Rochester Police Department’s SCUBA team was requested to the scene. In Rochester, the fire department provides rescue capabilities for on-water incidents and the police department provides SCUBA capabilities for underwater activities. By having these assets on scene, additional safety measures were in place for the firefighters along with a resource capable of operating below the surface had the crane slipped from its resting point into the water.
  • The RFD’s medical director was called to the scene. Due to the significance of the event and the potential for advanced medical interventions during the incident, this decision brought the highest level of skills to the scene early.
  • The fire department’s Special Operations Unit captain and lieutenant were dispatched. Their assignments included assisting with technical rescue operations and functioning as a liaison for outside rescue assets called to the scene.
  • Monroe County Assistant Fire Coordinator Steve Schalabba responded to facilitate the requests for additional county-based technical response capabilities. The county has had a very active working group related to technical rescue activities for more than two years. During this time, significant inter-agency activities in the area of equipment acquisitions and training have taken place. As one of the larger counties in western New York in both size and population, it was identified early that the need existed for an established system to address these types of technical rescue incidents both in the county and in support of surrounding counties.
  • The balance of the RFD’s collapse response team was requested to the scene. This brought additional trained responders in the area of heavy rigging and the available equipment to support these operations.
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