Painter Injured in 40-Ft. Water Tower Fall
Federal safety officials are investigating an accident outside Pittsburgh in which a scaffolding failure caused a painter to fall inside a water tower Monday (Nov. 14).
The 32-year-old man, whose identity has not yet been released, survived the 40-foot fall but suffered a broken arm, as well as head, neck and back injuries, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported.
Following the two-hour rescue operation, he was in and out of consciousness but was able to communicate, according to Gene Marsico, chief of the Aspinwall Volunteer Fire Department.
"For the circumstances, and for how long he was in there, he seemed to be doing OK," Fox Chapel Assistant Fire Chief Brian Zimmerman told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. "We're hoping that everything comes out pretty good for him."
The injured contractor, who is said to be from Galveston, TX, is reportedly part of a painting crew from A1 Industrial Painting Inc., based in Campbell, OH.
The accident occurred at around 12:30 p.m. at the 200-foot-tall Wise Hill water storage tank in O’Hara Township, about six miles northeast of Pittsburgh. When his scaffolding collapsed, the painter fell to the bottom of the 500,000-gallon tank.
The tank had been drained for the painting operations, O'Hara Township Police Superintendent James Farringer told the local ABC affiliate.
Emergency responders immobilized the contractor on a stretcher, set him up with an IV and began treating him while still inside the structure. After extricating him from the tower, he was taken by ambulance to a waiting helicopter that transported him to an area hospital.
Work on the water tower—reportedly its first paint job in 25 years—had begun in August and was scheduled to wrap up this Friday, according to Don Kendrick of the Fox Chapel Water Authority, which manages the tower.
Blawnox Fire Chief George McBriar indicated that, although it wasn’t clear where it was attached, the painter was wearing a safety harness at the time of the accident.
A1 Industrial Painting did not respond immediately (Tuesday, Nov. 15) to a request for comment.
Rescue efforts, which involved fire departments from three boroughs, were reportedly hampered by the narrow access openings and confined space of the water tower.
“This is the first time we’ve had to deal with an issue like this,” McBriar said.
Rescue crews initially intended to lift the painter through a manhole on top of the tower, but opted against it both because of the size of the opening and the risks involved with lowering a man needing medical attention 150 feet down the side of the tower.
"It's a pretty small hole," Marsico said of the confined space. "You basically could only use small, thin people to get up in there."
Moreover, Zimmerman said an extension ladder blocked almost half of the top entrance of the tower, further impeding the potential for a rescue from the top.
Instead, they chose to use a hatch near the ground in a central column that is only three feet in diameter. Called a wet riser, the column is normally filled with water, and has no stairs to accommodate movement within it.
The rescue workers were able to utilize an “air chair”—an air-compressor-powered chair set up by the painting company—to move him down the shaft with his stretcher.
Acknowledging the complicated nature of the operation, McBriar stated, “A lot of it was training, and knowing what assets are available."
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration will investigate the accident. A search of OSHA’s database of enforcement inspections showed no prior history of citations for A1 Industrial Painting.