PHOTO: Rescue workers standby as the Spring Hill Fire Department prepares to extract the trapped construction worker. / Photo by Alexander Willis
BY ALEXANDER WILLIS
A construction worker was rescued by Spring Hill firefighters Wednesday afternoon after a controlled bridge demolition went awry, leaving the worker trapped in his crane as it teetered over the edge of a partially destroyed bridge.
The worker was eventually rescued with no injuries.
The bridge set to be demolished sat next to the Spring Hill General Motors (GM) plant off of U.S. 31, with GM employees staging protests within earshot of the construction site as part of the ongoing national strike of the United Auto Workers labor union (UAW). At around 12:45 p.m., protesters heard a loud crash and saw a large plume of smoke from just a few hundred yards away.
“They were out there trying to do some demolition, and the sidewall of the bridge there kind of collapsed,” said Chris Gauthier, a GM employee participating in the nearby protest. “Apparently the [crane] was a little bit across the line. Everybody from 1853 (the Spring Hill chapter of the UAW) dropped their picket signs to run over there and see what they could do to help.”
Gauthier said that every UAW member there protesting — which amounted to around 40 people — immediately rushed to the site of the accident to check on the status of the worker. After the crane operator signaled a thumbs up to the protesters, signaling that he wasn’t injured, protesters then waited on rescue services to arrive at the scene.
“At first, we thought it was somebody trying to get by, we didn’t know what was going on, but then when [someone] said that the crane had gone over the top, we went a’running,” said David Albarran, another GM employee participating in the protest. “You may not agree with what we do, how we go about it — the strike itself — but we’re talking about a fellow human being. When it was time to go do something, we certainly ran over there, despite the dangers that were involved. We had to go see if we could help.”
Not long after, Spring Hill police and fire arrived on the scene, quickly assessing the best course of action to take in order to rescue the trapped worker. Spring Hill Fire Chief Terry Hood said one of the first things they did was make phone contact with the worker, telling him to remain still, as well as to remain calm.
“What we ended up doing was putting the ropes on the ladder, tying one of our rescuers on rope, hoisting him over to the track hole, lowering the ladder truck down, and then lowering the firefighter down and handing the gentleman inside a harness and helmet,” Hood said. “Once he had that equipment on, we handed him a belay line, got him on rope, then they basically just turned the ladder truck around to land and lowered him down to safety.”
The firefighter who rescued the worker was Nick Kolesar, who has been with the Spring Hill Fire Department for three years. Hood praised Kolesar’s efforts, while also noting that the timing of the accident was very coincidental, as the Fire Department had just wrapped up a training course on nearly identical rescue scenarios.
“As ironic this is, we were in class all week doing that same type of extrication; using our ladder trucks and our ropes,” Hood said. “Again, it was [the] exact rescue we’d been talking about all week long in class, and so for us, it was a true end of the class.”