ABOVE: The men who rescued a crane operator, trapped high above a raging fire, say they were simply doing what they were trained to do. Mike Drolet reports.
TORONTO – The Kingston crane operator trapped atop his rig as a huge blaze grew around him turned the crane away from the fire and walked the length of the boom where he waited to be rescued.
It was 68-year-old Adam Jastrzebski’s last job before retirement.
The operator with Canadian Professional Crane was left with burns to his hands, legs, back and buttocks and is recovering in hospital. In an interview with the Kingston Whig-Standard, the now-retired crane operator said he saw the fire start but wasn’t sure he could climb down amid the thick smoke.
“I was waiting outside [the cab]. It was a little fire but so much smoke so I thought to myself I couldn’t go down because I could get choking and fall down and kill myself,” he told the newspaper.
Once at the far end of the boom, he said, “I called 911 and they told me the helicopter is already en route and he said 30 minutes, but they came faster than that,” he told the Whig. “I was shaking and frozen on one side, it was a crazy situation.”
A helicopter team from nearby Canadian Forces Base Trenton was called in; a rescuer was lowered down to help the trapped construction worker. He was being treated for minor injuries, police said.
“He’s in severe pain right now in the hospital and they’re giving him morphine,” said Jastrzebski’s employer Adam Malek, who had visited him in hospital.
The fire broke out Tuesday afternoon in a wooden structure under construction on Princess Street in downtown Kingston, destined for student apartments.
The city was warned in a November 2013 email that the building in question was known locally as the “tinderbox.” The writer of the email to the city claimed that if there was a fire “it will be horrific.”
But the city approved a contractor’s application to add more bedrooms to the wooden structure anyway.
The mayor acknowledged that he was concerned about a building made completely of wood, but noted a proper permit had been taken out to build it, and its design adhered to all required aspects of the Ontario Building Code.
The mayor said Wednesday engineers were discussing if it would be possible to take the crane apart in sections to prevent it from falling and damaging nearby buildings.
“If it collapsed on top of the nearby gas station, it would be a lot worse if another fire started there. A seniors residence right next door that sustained significant fire damage would also be affected if it collapsed in that direction,” Gerretsen said.
Kingston Fire Chief Rheaume Chaput said the blaze, which may have burned at close to 1,000 degrees Celsius, may have altered the makeup of the steel crane.
“We don’t know how brittle or how safe it is, so we don’t want to take any chances,” he said.
Meanwhile, Gerretsen said the major concern Wednesday morning was extinguishing the fire in its entirety. The municipality has been in conversation with the Ontario Fire Marshal and Ministry of Labour staff, but they couldn’t yet begin their investigation into the cause of the fire since the local firefighters were continuing to battle the blaze.
“We are still extremely concerned of safety of firefighters,” said the mayor.
“That’s why we haven’t been able to get close enough to the fire, because the firefighters are being held back because of the threat of that crane.”
The fire marshal was requested to attend because it’s a “large loss fire” – anything over half a million dollars.
“We’re also going to be working with a local contractor to determine the human activities in the building at the time,” said spokesperson Carol Gravelle. “But other than that, we’re in the very preliminary phase of our investigation.”
Though only the crane operator was injured during the fire, the blaze forced more than 150 people from their homes, blew out windows in neighbouring buildings, destroyed a nearby hotel and burned nearby vehicles.
Utilities were shut down in the area to make it safe for crews battling the fire. The mayor said Wednesday that power was starting to be restored to some areas, but probably won’t be on for “several days” at the site itself.
Gerretsen said it could take anywhere from hours to weeks to fully restore power in all areas.
Watch below: Peter Kim reports on the major fire that erupted in Kingston
The evacuation order remained in effect in the area between Macdonnell St. and Victoria St. and S. Bartlett St. to Durham St. as of 10 a.m., according to a city news release. Evacuees were advised to register with the Red Cross at 1-855-797-8875.
Residents looking for information on lost or found pets were asked to call 613-546-0000 as the city works with Kingston Fire and Rescue and the Humane Society to check on animals.
Traffic continued to be rerouted around the site of the fire via Concession Street. Kingston Transit is also detouring around the area, but running as usual.
The city release said food and coffee are being offered to those “in need” at St. Andrew’s Chuch, 130 Clergy St. E. from 12 p.m. until 4 p.m.
With files from The Canadian Press
© Shaw Media, 2013