Blast Rocks Aerial Platform
DONALD B. COATS
Members of the Grosse Pointe Woods, Mich., Public Safety Department lived through a unique experience when an underground explosion rocked their elevating platform apparatus at a fire and tossed one man about 30 feet to the ground.
The series of events started when Grosse Pointe Farms broadcast a fire alarm at 10:04 p.m. Saturday, January 24, with the announcement that a home at 34 Harbor Hill had exploded. The first units on the scene, one engine and one ladder company, saw the severity of both the blast destruction and the fire and called for a third alarm response on Box 314 at 10:08 p.m. This put the Grosse Pointe-Harper Woods mutual aid fire pact into effect.
The multiple alarm brought two engines from Grosse Pointe City, one engine from Grosse Pointe Park and the elevating platform from Grosse Pointe Woods. An engine from Harper Woods filled in at Grosse Pointe Farms.
The elevating platform dispatched by Grosse Pointe Woods was a relatively new 65-foot, 1,000-gpm quint, carrying a four-man public safety officer crew. Grosse Pointe Woods has an integrated police and fire department operation.
Upon arrival at the fireground, Corporal Kerving, who was in command of the elevating platform, was instructed by the officer in charge of the fire to locate his company along the east side of 34 Harbor Hill. Two 2 1/2-inch lines were fed into the platform’s monitor gun, and Kerving and Public Safety Officer Weyhing went to work in the basket. They positioned the basket about 30 feet above the ground and along the east side of the demolished residence, now a free-burning fire.
The sweep and colume of water from the elevating platform was very effective and within 20 minutes the fire was knocked down and under control.
Observers reported that a heavy odor of gas was present throughout the area. It was this situation that nearly proved disastrous. Shortly thereafter, two additional explosions, one following closely upon the other, rocked the area and severely damaged a home at 38 Harbor Hill, but without any fire incidence.
Blast lifts apparatus
The second blast involved the elevating platform. The explosion below street level raised the left side of the truck some 1 1/2 to 2 feet off the ground. The whiplash of the upper boom tossed Weyhing out of the basket. He landed clear of the debris and in a snow bank. It is estimated that he fell 30 feet. Kerving was seriously jarred in the basket but was not thrown clear. The other two crew members were stunned by the force of the explosion.
Public Safety Officer Fred Messer recovered quickly and went to the aid of the injured Weyhing. Then things really happened.
In the meantime, Kerving lay helpless in the basket. Engineer Messer, using the override controls at the rear of the apparatus, coolly brought the basket to the ground and Kerving was lifted to safety. It was then necessary for the operator to get the apparatus ready to be moved from the dangerous area. This was no mean accomplishment in itself.
When the operator attempted to raise the side hydraulic stabilizer pads, he found they were jammed by the force of the explosion. By skillful use of the boom as a counterbalance, the hydraulic stabilizer pads were lifted and the truck was then moved to a safer area. This proved to be a most fortunate decision because immediately following the removal of the elevating platform, gas-fed fires began to appear in the ruptured pavement and quickly spread along the street where the apparatus had been operating.
The injured fire fighters were removed by ambulance to nearby Bon Secours Hospital. Kerving suffered severe shock, facial injuries and multiple bruises, while Weyhing sustained hip, back and leg injuries.
Need for safety belts
A number of lessons certainly were to be learned from this experience. It is fortunate that Messer was able to recover so quickly from the shock of the explosion. No one else on the fireground had the necessary skills to carry out the swiftly executed maneuvers. This incident clearly dramatizes that safety belts are a must for personnel during aerial operations. It should be mentioned that both men in the basket were changing positions when the explosion took place.
The elevating platform underwent extensive examination and received needed repairs before the unit was placed back in service. A full report by examining engineers revealed minor damage to the front outriggers and that the top of the lower boom was overstressed, causing a slight deformation.