Thursday, November 11, 2010

What Happens When a Tower Demolition Goes Way Wrong!

“Oh no.”

Near Springfield, Ohio, those were some of the last words heard before shouts to get back as the old Mad River Power Plant’s 275-foot tower toppled in the wrong direction about noon Wednesday.

The blasts should have sent the stack onto a cleared area directly to the east, but instead the tower crashed to the southeast.


No one was injured but the tower knocked down two 12,500-volt power lines and smashed a building housing back-up generators.

The electrical lines came crashing down as a crowd of about 25 media members, FirstEnergy Corp. employees, demolition crews and their family members scattered to avoid the live lines.

“It just started leaning the other way and I thought, ‘Holy cow’ ... It was terrifying for a little bit,” Springfield Twp. Fire Chief John Roeder said.

About 4,000 customers on the west side of the city lost power for more than two hours and traffic lights in at least nine intersections went down.

The explosives detonated correctly, but an undetected crack on south side of the tower pulled it backward, said Lisa Kelly, president/owner of Advanced Explosives Demolition Inc.

“It’s property damage and it’s not life,” she said. “That’s the most important thing — that no one was injured.”

Demolitions are a highly technical process.

“(But) it’s not without some uncertainty,” said Tim Suter, FirstEnergy manager of external affairs.

All of the debris landed on the FirstEnergy property and none of it went into the Mad River or onto the nearby railway tracks. An estimate of the cost of the damage wasn’t available Wednesday.

Suter said he hasn’t seen anything like it before.

“Fortunately no one was injured,” he said.

FirstEnergy has worked with the demolition contractor, Advanced Explosives Demolition Inc., on other jobs, Suter said, and a lot of preparation went into the project.

“They’ve taken other towers twice the size of this one down without anything going on,” he said.

The Idaho-based, family-owned company has been featured in a series on TLC, according to its website. They travel the country with their children doing demolitions.

The AED website says that Eric Kelly has “a perfect safety record of no accidents in 27 years.”

AED President/Owner Lisa Kelly said the crack in the tower pulled it in the wrong direction.

The most important fact is that no one was injured, Kelly said, because property can always be reconstructed.

Cleanup will be handled efficiently, she said.

“Nobody’s happy with things that go wrong in life, and sometimes it’s out of our hands and beyond anybody’s prediction ... We’re all extremely thankful no one was injured or hurt,” she said.

The plant dates to the 1920s and was last used nearly 30 years ago. FirstEnergy began razing it this summer as a company-wide effort to cleanup old sites.

Springfield Twp. Fire Chief John Roeder came to observe the tower demolition Wednesday and had fire trucks nearby if needed.

Once he saw the tower heading the wrong direction, Roeder wanted to clear the area under the wires as quickly as possible, and feared it might strike a substation and start a fire.

“It was definitely a sight to see,” Roeder said.

The power lines nearly fell on several news crews staged in the area.

“We just ran,” said Eric Higgenbotham, a WHIO-TV videographer. “We were standing underneath the power lines, it was like the end of the world. We were running for our lives.”

At least nine intersections on the west side of the city lost power, and officers were dispatched to direct traffic, said Sgt. Brian Radanovich, Springfield Police Division.

One minor crash with no injuries at High Street and Wittenberg Avenue was reported during the outage.

Fewer intersections were disabled in past power outages, he said.

“This is probably the most we’ve had in awhile,” he said.