Last Friday was supposed to be a day of celebration for the construction crews that have been toiling for months on the 24-story Waterview tower in Rosslyn overlooking the Potomac River.
Workers would be pouring the final dollops of concrete onto the building’s roof, and Clark Construction, the project’s contractor, was planning a "topping-off party" to commemorate the occasion.
Instead, a blustery day took a tragic turn around 8:30 in the morning, when a 60-by-30 foot portion of the roof collapsed onto a team of construction workers on the building’s 24th floor. Seventeen individuals were hurt — including three critically — and traffic in Rosslyn was snarled for several hours, but no one was killed during the accident, authorities said.
Workers had been setting wet concrete for more than two hours when the scaffolding gave way, bringing down a cascade of concrete and construction material on the workers below, said Capt. Tom Polera, spokesman for the Arlington County Fire Department.
Approximately 200 workers were in the building, located on the corner of North Lynn and North 19th Streets in the heart of Rosslyn, at the time of the incident. Within minutes an Arlington fire department team was on the scene.
Most of the individuals on the 24th floor, including 12 who were slightly injured, were able to make it down to the ground floor on their own volition. But four workers were trapped beneath wooden planks, metal pipes and fast-drying concrete.
Arlington fire Capt. George Williams led a rescue team to the workers, and used airbags and wood to free the men, who were stuck in 12 to 18 inches of concrete.
"First we made sure the area was shored up and we had the tools we needed, and then we worked to free" the four workers, Williams said in an interview.
Fire fighters put the injured workers in baskets and carried them down six flights of stairs, and from the 18th floor they were brought to the ground via elevators. The men were conscious while they were being transported and were talking to the firefighters, Williams said. The last injured man was not extricated from the building until nearly 10:45 a.m.
"It was difficult, but the rescue team pulled it off successfully," Polera said during a press conference outside the building.
The three critically injured workers, along with two others, were taken to George Washington University Hospital. Six were transported to Fairfax Hospital and five to Virginia Hospital Center in North Arlington. One firefighter who injured his back went to a hospital in Alexandria for treatment. The fire department also established a triage area across the street to provide on-site medical evaluation and treatment.
THE FIRE DEPARTMENT was working with Virginia’s Occupation Safety and Health Administration to identify the cause of the accident, Polera said.
Brian Apt, a commercial development president for Clark Construction, lauded the quick response of fire officials and said he was "grateful" that there was no loss of life.
"We’re working with OHSA and street engineers to determine what the cause is," Apt said. "Right now we are not sure what caused it."
It is possible that the cold temperatures and high winds may have played a factor in the accident, Polera added.
After evacuating from the building, many of the construction workers watched the rescue efforts from across the street or nearby coffeeshops and restaurants. A group of three individuals who were in the Waterview at the time of the accident said they were concerned for the safety of their fellow workers. The three, who were smoking outside the Santa Fe Café, declined to give their names, but said they were "shaken up" by the incident.
Mory Leonzo, who was working at the time in an adjacent 29-story building that is also under construction, said that pouring concrete at such a high altitude on a frigid day is "always dangerous."
In total, more than 20 Arlington fire and rescue units were dispatched to the scene, along with 17 Arlington police units. Fire authorities from Alexandria aided in the rescue efforts, and Fairfax County officials helped assume communication and 911 responsibilities.
The Waterview development is a 1 million square-foot project that includes the 24-story office tower and an adjacent 29-story hotel and condominium building. The project is being developed by the JBG Companies and is expected to open in the summer of 2007.