Worker trapped on side of 18-story condo
CARLOS R. MUNOZ and ELIZABETH DJINIS, Sarasota Herald Tribune
SARASOTA – Firefighters rescued a man from the side of a downtown high-rise building Monday morning after he spent nearly an hour on a scaffolding platform that malfunctioned and tilted sideways.
The 49-year-old employee of BCBE Construction became stuck on the scaffolding stage when one of the motors failed and swung one side of the platform far above the other. Employees immediately went to turn the motor off, but at that point the worker already was caught against the side of the building, 624 Palm, named after its address, 624 S. Palm Ave.
Calls to BCBE were not immediately returned for comment.
The worker, who was not identified by the fire department because of federal health privacy regulations, was in a safety harness and crews lowered a second safety line to him, but the scaffolding was believed to be secure.
Firefighters considered cutting through the glass of a hurricane window able to withstand around 160 mph winds that was next to the worker, but decided to lower a firefighter from the roof instead. The 18-story condominium is the tallest allowable height for construction in Sarasota.
Michael Keane, a Sarasota County firefighter and EMT and special operations team member, was sent over the wall to rescue the man. Crews already had secured the worker to a second safety line and Keane worked to put him in a Sarasota County rescue harness. He said the man was “cool and collected” during the operation.
“I think I was a little more anxious than he was,” Keane said. “There was a little bit of a language barrier to deal with, but he was very alert. … He was actually able to help me out in securing him.”
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It was the first time in Keane’s seven years on the special operations team that he has been involved in a “high-angle” rescue. While the two men were dangling from about 120 feet above downtown waiting for a go-ahead to proceed with the rescue, they talked about life.
“We had a little bit of time to kill so actually we talked about family,” said Keane who became more aware of the possibility of being involved in a rescue after a similar incident occurred last month. “We talked about the view of the bay.”
Firefighter Michael Herrygers, who was on the rooftop during the rescue, said the building did not offer mounts to tether ropes to, so crews used supporting columns to secure Keane and the worker’s ropes. He said the team had no trouble lowering Keane and the worker to the ground.
Gulfstream and Palm avenues were temporarily closed during the rescue.
“There’s always safety concerns when you’re on the side of a building,” said Sarasota County Fire Chief Michael Regnier at a news conference. “Mechanical things happen to scaffolding and motors and so forth, but when you’re in your harness and you’re safe, these are the good things that happen.”
Second accident in a month
The incident is the second construction-related accident in downtown Sarasota in barely a month. In early June, a crew worker at the Vue Condominiums was pulled to safety after a similar fault with scaffolding used by a different firm. Regnier attributed this to the numerous construction projects and development in the area.
“It’s the nature of the business,” Regnier said. “There’s a lot of construction going on within Sarasota County, but it is a success story if you look at it from a number of factors.”
Regnier added that his team was going to assess what they can do to prevent motor malfunctions in the future.
“Motors do fail,” he said. “That is an industry issue.”
Construction in Sarasota will not stop anytime soon. In the last three years, the city of Sarasota has issued building permits worth for construction more than $1 billion. Once building is complete on the planned development the area will see more than 4,200 new apartments, condominiums and hotel rooms.
Next door in the Essex House condominiums, residents have complained for more than a year about problems regarding the construction of 624 Palm.
Long-time Essex House association president Lottie Varano reiterated the group’s concerns to the City Commission just three weeks ago and dozens of residents filled the chambers in support of his position. He presented pictures of fallen construction debris in the Essex House driveway, cranes carrying loads over its building and even a bedroom window broken by a piece of rebar ejected from a saw.
He has asked the City Commission to consider changes to its construction rules to require more protective wrapping around tall projects and to empower city staff to intervene if there are problems, which they would not do during the dispute over construction problems last year.
Commissioner Jen Ahearn-Koch has asked the city to consider such changes, though formal discussion of potential changes has not been scheduled.
Staff writer Zach Murdock contributed this report.
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