The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, April 19, 2013

Old steel towers stand tall to support rescue training

By Marty Mulcahy, Editor

HOWELL – Steel tower sections from two shuttered auto plants that were ripe for the scrap heap have instead been recycled for use in a variety of construction industry training and urban and jobsite rescue exercises.

In 2011, Ford Motor Co. donated a 40-foot-tall by 30-foot-wide steel stair tower that led to the roof of the shuttered Ford-Wixom plant. Last fall, MCM Demolition, a contractor at GM’s Pontiac Truck plant, donated a similar tower.

A crew of apprentices from both Iron Workers Local 25 and Operating Engineers Local 324 marked the pieces, disassembled the towers, loaded the sections onto trucks, and transported them to the Local 324 Training Center.

On two frigid days in March, crews from both crafts reassembled the towers next to each other. A catwalk will connect them at the top. The structure will be like none other in Michigan. They will be used to help train members of Operating Engineers Local 324 and Iron Workers Local 25 and Local 340 in high-level rescues of injured or incapacitated workers. And MUSAR – the Michigan Urban Search and Rescue Foundation – will incorporate the structure into their training curriculum for first-responder emergency personnel.

“This is such a great project because it brings skilled and trained people in the trades together with our partners to build something that will benefit our industry as well as the general public,” said Local 324 Training Coordinator Lee Graham. “This will not only help provide training for first responders in the event of terrorism or natural disasters. In training our own people, we all could also help save lives on construction sites.”

Gary Montie of Iron Workers Local 25, who supervised the erection of the towers for a volunteer crew of six active and retired iron workers, laughed when it was pointed out to him that they could have picked a warmer and more pleasant day to raise the structures. “We would have preferred to do this in the summer, but everybody will be busy then,” he said. “But we’re all right. So far, so good. It’s always a challenge to put something back together after it was taken apart.”

He said there were 50-60 pieces to reassemble. Old bolts were cut out, and in most cases, they were able to use original holes in the steel to place the new bolts during re-assembly. Rick Smallman, a crane instructor for Local 324, said five apprentice operators were participating in the tower erection project.

“The giving aspect of this has been phenomenal,” Graham said. “There were no ‘no’s’ when it came to the help, the donation of the steel and the equipment used to disassemble and re-erect the towers. Everyone has been super.”

The first use for the steel framework will take place the week of May 28, when iron workers and operating engineers will use the structure for high angle rope and rescue training. Those who successfully complete the training will have high angle rescue certification – a nice thing to have with more windmill construction on the way in various locales in Michigan.

Local 25 Training Director Kevin McDonell said the operating engineers and the iron workers already have 24 members certified in high-angle rescue, and a total of 36 will have that endorsement by the end of May. “It’s certainly something else for our members to put on their resume to help keep them employed,” he said.

McDonell added that the framework would provide an excellent real-world environment of “raw construction” for first responders. The structure joins other space used for rescue training at the sprawling 515-acre Local 324 training site, where Local 324 and MUSAR have teamed up since 2005. In September of that year, the training center and MUSAR unveiled a program to provide space for response teams across Michigan to learn to perform urban rescue operations in fallen buildings, trench collapses or similar events. Since then, the iron workers and operating engineers have trained with MUSAR personnel, because of the strong potential they could meet on an accident at a job site or at a disaster site.

MUSAR is a nonprofit organization, primarily consisting of EMS, firefighters and other first responders from agencies around the state. The group offers awareness, operations and technical level training in four rescue disciplines: rope rescue, confined space, trench, and structural collapse rescue.

McDonell said he talked to a firefighter who has been to first responder training programs in other states. “He told me he runs into other firefighters from other areas all the time and they’re envious of what we have in Michigan. He said they just can’t get this type of thing started in their area.”

IRON WORKERS Local 25 members Gary Montie, left, and Keith Reddman ready a reused beam for placement in the new rescue training tower at the Operating Engineers Local 324 Training Center. Operating the crane is Local 324 apprentice James Long.

THE RECONSTRUCTED steel towers approach completion.