June 9, 1999 - A Concrete Floor Collapses in the Rennebohm Pharmacy Building at UW-Madison - An Engineer's Aspect


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Wednesday, June 9, 2010

June 9, 1999 - A Concrete Floor Collapses in the Rennebohm Pharmacy Building at UW-Madison

From the Wisconsin State Journal, Madison, Wisconsin, Thursday, June 10, 1999, Pages 1A and 3A.

Map of UW-Madison and the Rennebohm Pharmacy Building Under Construction.

Tension high as trapped man is saved after collapse

By Anita Clark
and Phil Brinkman

Wisconsin State Journal

Rescuers, working in cramped, hot quarters and fearing for their own safety, struggled for hours Wednesday to free a man whose legs were crushed when a freshly poured concrete floor collapsed at a construction site on the UW-Madison campus.

Nine others were injured, most not seriously, at the Rennebohm Pharmacy Building site, across from University Hospital.

Assistant Madison Fire Chief Carl Saxe said it was the worst structural collapse he has seen in 25 years and the most injured people since the 1993 Camp Randall stampede.

Firefighters and construction workers shoveled wet concrete as fast as they could to free Terry Staskal while doctors gave him blood transfusions and prepared for a possible amputation.

Perhaps the worst moment came when rescuers had to tell Staskal they were stepping away from him as a crane tried -- without success -- to lift the debris.

Firefighters and construction workers shovel away wet concrete from a collapsed upper floor of the Rennebohm Pharmacy Building on Wednesday, trying to clear a path for a crane cable to lift the debris off a trapped worker.

A second attempt, using the crane plus air bags strong enough to lift a city bus, allowed rescuers to ease him to safety. It had been three hours and two minutes since the 8:16 a.m. collapse.

Staskal was in fair condition

Please see COLLAPSE, Page 3A


Continued from Page 1A

Wednesday night, although doctors said another hour under the debris and he might have bled to death.

As Staskal, 41, of Platteville, was lowered by crane to a waiting ambulance to be taken to University Hospital, attention turned to finding the cause of the accident.

A support system for the poured concrete floors apparently failed, causing one section of the fourth floor to collapse and send wet concrete cascading onto the floor below, said Norman Kraemer, CEO of Kraemer Brothers Inc., the general contractor for the $46.9 million project.

Kraemer said the concrete-forming system is a new one bought this year from Symons Corp. of Bloomington, Minn., and had been used successfully on this project until Wednesday. All of his workers have been trained in how to use it, he said.

"It had to be something in the material that failed," Kraemer said. "It was designed to take the weight, easily, and something else went wrong."

Officials at Symon Corp. were not available for comment Wednesday afternoon.

Kraemer spoke at a Wednesday afternoon news conference at University Hospital in a room jammed with reporters and photographers from Madison and Milwaukee.

After evacuating the other injured men, a rescue team tried to stabilize the badly hurt Staskal. The medical team, including an orthopedic surgeon, grabbed equipment before dashing across Highland Avenue after paramedics asked for help, said Dr. Mark Bogner at the news conference.


The following workers were injured in Wednesday's collapse at the construction site of the Rennebohm Pharmacy Building:

Matthew Brickl, 20, Spring Green, treated and released.

Jeffrey Curtis, 33, Richland Center, good condition, arm and hand injuries.

Walter Brabowski, 49, Grand Marsh, treated and released.

Steven Weber, 39, Verona, treated and released.

Thomas Carpenter, 39, Spring Green, fair, broken elbow.

Tim Pelanek, 35, Sauk City, treated and released.

Todd Dobbs, 30, Richland Center, fair, broken leg.

Terry Staskal, 41, Platteville, serious but stable with leg and foot injuries. He had been trapped under rubble for three hours.

Two other workers walked into the hospital several hours after the collapse complaining of injuries. They are Keith Hickey, 27, and Devin Renner, 23, both of Adams. Both were being assessed Wednesday afternoon, University Hospital spokeswoman Lisa Brunette said.

Another collapse feared

Doctors found Staskal face down in the debris, his legs buried, his heart racing and his blood pressure dropping.

"A jumble of metal and other forms twisted and a couple of them had crashed down on this gentleman's legs" under the crushing weight of wet concrete, said Lt. Ron Schwenn, who headed the Fire Department rescue effort.

Doctors crouched in a space only 2 or 3 feet high, in debris propped up by boards, as more than two dozen firefighters and other Kraemer workers tried to prevent a further collapse.

About 40 workers were on the job Wednesday morning. Two men who fell as the floor collapsed were seriously injured. They were covered with wet concrete before being freed between 9 and 9:21 a.m. and lowered by crane to ambulances. One was treated and released;the other was in fair condition Wednesday night.

Seven other workers were treated for injuries, most of them minor.

Doctors knew they might have to amputate Staskal's legs. They also knew more heavy debris might fall on him--and them.

"Sure" it was scary, Schwenn said in response to a reporter's question. Rescuers could hear other support beams breaking as they tended to Staskal, he said.

"He was anxious and scared. He was calm, he was not losing control," but was suffering a lot of pain, Schwenn said. Staskal wanted to be sure his wife had been notified.

After scooping away much of the concrete, rescuers cut a hole in the failed platform and attached crane cables, hoping to lift it off Staskal. But they needed to back away from their patient for their own safety.

"That was the worst part of it -- when we had to leave his side for a few minutes," Schwenn said.

The crane was unable to lift the decking. But a second attempt, which also involved stuffing air bags under the debris, was successful.

Doctors treated Staskal for another half hour, cleaning and splinting his legs, before lowering him in a rescue basket to an ambulance.

Staskal underwent surgery Wednesday afternoon and was listed in fair condition by evening. Dr. Bruce Potenza said at the news conference it probably would take 24 to 48 hours to predict his recovery.

After working for three harrowing hours under a possibly unstable wet concrete floor, rescuers finally freed Terry Staskal, who was placed in a basket and gently lowered to the ground by crane.

As he was freed, Staskal thanked his rescuers and promised to buy them a beer next week, Schwenn said.

How much more time did Staskal have?

"We probably could have gone another hour but we were pushing the limits with this man," Potenza said.

Team of heroes

Was Schwenn a hero? He demurred, citing the "team effort of everybody up there."

But Kraemer safety director Paul Bartelson said, "If Lt. Schwenn doesn't want to accept the term 'hero' ... I'll use it, because those people put themselves in a great deal of jeopardy."

Kraemer said work would resume on the building, perhaps as soon as this morning, and it would take about a week to catch up to the construction schedule.

"This is not going to delay the completion of the project," which is set for early fall 2000, Kraemer said.

Inspectors from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration arrived at the construction accident at mid-morning, conferring with Kraemer executives inside the muddy construction yard.

By studying samples of concrete and steel, investigators should be able to determine if the accident was caused by defective materials said Don Moen, safety director for Associated Builders and Contractors of Wisconsin, a Madison-based trade group.

Sometimes concrete walls collapse at construction sites if they are not braced properly, but Wednesday's accident was unusual, Moen said.

"With the procedures that Kraemer Brothers and other companies follow, it's pretty safe, routine work," he said. "Kraemer is the type of company that does things right.'

Awad Hanna and Lawrence Bank, civil engineering professors at UW-Madison, brought two graduate students to the site to see what can go wrong in concrete construction. Hanna, an expert on concrete formwork, speculated that a shoring rod used to hold up the form collapsed.

Some passers-by in the bustling area on the west end of campus stopped to ask what had happened. Others had seen or heard the crash as the floor collapsed.

Bob Hendricks, a university planner, was walking by his office window on the eighth floor of the WARF building, where he has a bird's-eye view of the site.

Close-up of the collapse

Just before 8:16 Wednesday morning, a newly poured section of concrete floor collapsed in the Rennebohm Pharmacy Building under construction at UW-Madison. One worker was trapped in the rubble for three hours; nine other men were injured.

Rescuers had to use a crane and air bags to free Terry Staskal, 41, of Platteville, trapped under tons of steel and wet concrete. Investigators are looking at the temporary platforms used to support the new flooring some of which can be seen jutting out between the third and fourth floors.

"I heard a loud noise like a clap of thunder and saw the northeast corner of the fourth floor, where they were pouring concrete, just drop," said Hendricks.

Things happened fast then, with workers scurrying and cranes being repositioned for the rescue effort, he said.

Another witness, Liz Beyler, an employee of the UW-Madison Office of News and Public Affairs, was waiting for a bus at the nearby Lot 60.

"We heard this very loud noise coming from the building. We saw materials, large pieces of debris, cascading off the building. People were scurrying from the work area.

"There were shouts. It was so sudden."

The Madison Metro bus driver notified his dispatcher, who called 911. Numerous other 911 calls were received, the first from a state building inspector in the area with a nearly simultaneous call from the Kraemer construction trailer at the site, said Jay Deppe, a public information officer for the Madison Fire Department.

Attempts to interview any of the injured men were unsuccessful. Matthew Brickl of Spring Green said his employer, Kraemer Brothers, told him not to talk to the media, and he referred questions to the company's office.

One onlooker felt a special sadness as she watched Staskal's rescue stretcher sway slightly on its descent. Staskal's condition was not known at that time.

"This brings back feelings. They go to work and don't come home," said Consuelo Contreras of Madison, who lost an uncle and a cousin in an industrial accident 17 years ago. "I can just feel for the families because of what I went through."

She had brought her daughter to the doctor for treatment of a bee sting and stopped to watch the busy emergency scene.

"I guess if you have to be in an accident, thank God it was next to a hospital," she said.

Reporters Tom Alesia, Rick Barrett, Dee Hall and Georgie Hesselberg contributed to this story.

Wednesday's accident involved a "flying formwork," a table-shaped form workers use to hold freshly poured concrete flooring. It consists of two parallel trusses supporting a series of joists to which plywood sheathing panels are attached. Assembled on the ground, it is "flown" from floor to floor by cranes, where it can be raised into place on telescoping legs.

Investigators suspect one or more of the legs may have buckled or slipped, causing the structure to collapse and send its load of concrete to the floor below.


The builder has a 51-year history and a good safety record

By Rick Barrett
and Andy Hall

Wisconsin State Journal

In 51 years in the construction business, Norman Kraemer said, his company never had the floor of a building collapse while employees were working on it.

That was until Wednesday when tons of concrete and steel came crashing down at the construction site of UW-Madison's Rennebohm Pharmacy Building, injuring 10 workers. Kraemer Brothers Inc. is the general contractor for the project.

"Through the years, I have heard of things like this happening," said Kraemer, founder of the company. "But it never happened to us."

Kraemer said his thoughts were focused on his workers.

"We have insurance for the project. the money isn't my biggest concern," he said, adding that injured workers will be taken care of by insurance.

Kraemer Brothers is one of the state's biggest building contractors. The company had roughly $102 million in sales last year, and in recent years has built many landmark buildings in south-central Wisconsin. Kraemer's son, Thomas Kraemer, is the company's president.

A review of federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration records shows that Kraemer Brothers, with about 250 employees, has a good safety record. The only OSHA violations noted in a national records search were related to asbestos removal at demolition sites.

From its headquarters in the Sauk County community of Plain, seven miles north of Spring Green, Kraemer Brothers has quietly grown into the nation's 284th-largest construction firm. That ranking, compiled annually by Engineering News-Record, places it slightly ahead of its better-known Madison competitor, J.H. Findorff & Son Inc., which is listed as the 290th-largest contractor.

The company was founded in 1948 as a post-World War II building boom swept across the nation. It has, for the most part, stayed clear of controversies, a check of newspaper and court files showed.

Kraemer Brothers did make headlines in 1991 when it acknowledged that concrete pads beneath the interior supporting columns of an Iowa-Grant elementary school, west of Dodgeville, did not meet the standard of supporting 4,000 pounds per square inch. Concrete poured to form the foundation for the school was found, in some cases, to be less than half as strong as specified by the plans.

The Iowa-Grant School Board accepted a settlement from the contractor, which offered $50,000 cash and guarantees in the form of a 20-year insurance bond that would be worth $125,000 in 20 years. Kraemer Brothers also agreed to pay for future expenses incurred because of substandard pads.

According to WISN.com in 2003:
A Dane County juror decided Symons Corp. of Illinois, which made the concrete forms and supports used in the structure, must pay $23,821,610 to Terry Staskal of Hazel Green.

Jurors unanimously agreed Symons used a defective design.

Staskal, 45, was the most seriously hurt of the 11 Kraemer Bros. Construction workers injured when the building collapsed June 9, 1999. He was pinned for more than three hours under construction debris while firefighters and co-workers tried to free him.

Symons was ordered to pay $15 million in punitive damages, $6 million in future pain and suffering, $1.5 million in past pain and suffering and $500,000 to Staskal's wife.