Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Hyatt Regency Skywalk Collapse 1981; The Begining of Urban Heavy Rescue

Thirty Year Anniversary 1981-2011

The Hyatt Regency Walkway Collapse July 1981
On July 17, 1981 a suspended walkway collapsed in The Hyatt Regency Hotel in Kansas City, Missouri, killing 114 people and injuring 216 others during a tea dance. At the time, it was the deadliest structural collapse in U.S. history. This event and a subsequent series of other major incidents in the early and mid 1980's began the formulative efforts towards defining the emerging field of Urban Heavy Rescue (UHR) that would transition into Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) in the late 1980's and early 1990's.

Another significant incident occurring in 1981 included the Harbor Cay Condominium Collapse (Cocoa Beach, Florida, 1981). This building was under construction at the time of collapse. Heavy floor and wall construction consisted of precast reinforced concrete slabs and cast-in-place concrete components. All five floors and the roof of the condominium collapsed in a pancake configuration, trapping a large number of construction workers.

Eleven were killed and 23 injured. The incident involved more than 60 hours of continuous rescue operations and resources from 5 county fire districts; 16 municipal fire departments; and a response of Civil Defense, military, and private sector technical specialists.

Today marks the thirty year anniverary of the Kansas City event and the lessons learned that continue to be applied towards collapse rescue, urban search and rescue and techncial rescue operations, protocals, techniques, methodologies and preparedness.

On July 17, 1981, approximately 1,600 people gathered in the atrium to participate in and watch a dance competition. Dozens stood on the walkways. At 7:05 PM, the second-level walkway held approximately 40 people with more on the third and an additional 16 to 20 on the fourth level who watched the activities of crowd in the lobby below. The fourth floor bridge was suspended directly over the second floor bridge, with the third floor walkway offset several feet from the others.

Construction difficulties resulted in a subtle but flawed design change that doubled the load on the connection between the fourth floor walkway support beams and the tie rods carrying the weight of both walkways. This new design was barely adequate to support the dead load weight of the structure itself, much less the added weight of the spectators.

The connection failed and the fourth floor walkway collapsed onto the second floor and both walkways then fell to the lobby floor below, resulting in 111 immediate deaths and 216 injuries. Three additional victims died after being evacuated to hospitals making the total number of deaths 114 people.

Direct Link to the 1982 NIST Report, HERE

The hotel had only been in operation for approximately one year at the time of the walkways collapse, and the ensuing investigation of the accident revealed some unsettling facts:

  • During January and February, 1979, the design of the hanger rod connections was changed in a series of events and disputed communications between the fabricator (Havens Steel Company) and the engineering design team (G.C.E. International, Inc., a professional engineering firm). The fabricator changed the design from a one-rod to a two-rod system to simplify the assembly task, doubling the load on the connector, which ultimately resulted in the walkways collapse.
  • The fabricator, in sworn testimony before the administrative judicial hearings after the accident, claimed that his company (Havens) telephoned the engineering firm (G.C.E.) for change approval. G.C.E. denied ever receiving such a call from Havens.
  • On October 14, 1979 (more than one year before the walkways collapsed), while the hotel was still under construction, more than 2700 square feet of the atrium roof collapsed because one of the roof connections at the north end of the atrium failed.
  • In testimony, G.C.E. stated that on three separate occasions they requested on-site project representation during the construction phase; however, these requests were not acted on by the owner (Crown Center Redevelopment Corporation), due to additional costs of providing on-site inspection.
  • Even as originally designed, the walkways were barely capable of holding up the expected load, and would have failed to meet the requirements of the Kansas City Building Code.
  • The Kansas City Star has a dedicated memorial website established with images, video and information; HERE
  • A look back at the Hyatt Regency Skywalk Disaster, HERE
  • Kansas City (MO) Fire Department, HERE
  • Photos from Hyatt Regency Skywalk collapse aftermath, HERE
The high number of dead and injured, the location of the collapse, the size of the collapsed material, and the ineffectiveness of the typical emergency service tools created severe rescue limitations.
The incident required a large number of medical personnel working alongside the rescuers.

Twenty-nine live victims were removed from under the debris during the rescue operations. Heavy rigging and construction specialists and heavy equipment were needed to remove the debris during the rescue operations. large scale rescue operation soon unfolded. Heroes of the evening ranged from a husband who pulled his wife's trapped foot from the wreckage, to a surgeon who performed an emergency amputation to save a trapped and bleeding victim, to construction crew workers who toiled throughout the night clearing the debris.

A local crane company arrived at the scene to remove sections of collapsed walkway. Dispatchers called in emergency vehicles from throughout the city. Outlying cities such as Belton and Lee's Summit offered help within minutes of the dispatch calls. Victims were rushed to four nearby hospitals. Donors poured into the Greater Kansas City Community Blood Center. Local talk-show host Walt Bodine broadcast throughout the night. As late as midnight, excavators were trying to reach over a dozen people still trapped under the debris. At 5 a.m., workers uncovered the final 31 bodies from the last slab of concrete to be removed.

The rescue operation lasted well into the next morning and was carried out by a veritable army of emergency personnel, including 34 fire trucks, and paramedics and doctors from five area hospitals.

Dr. Joseph Waeckerle directed the rescue effort setting up a makeshift morgue in the ruined lobby and turning the hotel's taxi ring into a triage center, helping to organize the wounded by highest need for medical care. Those who could walk were instructed to leave the hotel to simplify the rescue effort, the fatally injured were told they were going to die and given morphine.

Workmen from a local construction company were also hired by the city fire department, bringing with them cranes, bulldozers, jackhammers and concrete-cutting power saws.

The biggest challenge to the rescue operation came when falling debris severed the hotel's water pipes, flooding the lobby and putting trapped survivors at great risk of drowning. As the pipes were connected to water tanks, as opposed to a public source, the flow could not be shut off.

Eventually, Kansas City's fire chief realized that the hotel's front doors were trapping the water in the lobby. On his orders, a bulldozer was sent in to rip out the doors, which allowed the water to pour out of the lobby and thus eliminated the danger to survivors.

For the Full Article, diagrams, videos and photos- Go to HERE

Friday, July 15, 2011

Near-Miss Report of the Week

As an officer, you need to stay abreast of operational issues and situations in order to be knowledgeable and conversant with the variables that may affect company deployments and subsequent operations. The National Fire Fighter Near Miss Reporting System (FFNMRS) has a vast collection of resources that are a few keystrokes and links away.

One of the most useful tools in the FFNMRS Tool Box of resources is the Near-Miss Report of the Week (ROTW). The direct link to the page is here.

Take some time to look over the content and subject matter available to you in the form of the weekly publication. The information provides insights and examples of situational near miss events and close calls that provide the lessons learned so that, when confronted with similar precursors or subtle indications, you may be able to draw from the ROTW and the from the lessons and insights of other Near Miss Reports that may prevent a similar close-call/near miss event or from escalating into a more serious event.

Take the time to review the ROTW, sign up for the weekly email delivery and most importantly- read the reports and integrate them into your training, drills, discussions, tabletops, chalk board or podcast talks. Get the FFNMRS reports embedded into your psyche.

Here's what was sent out this week....

Multiple units responding to the same incident from different directions creates the potential for unscheduled arrivals at intersecting points. These points are most frequently intersections that are in one form or another controlled by devices ranging from stop signs to traffic lights. In this week's ROTW, report 11-179, reminds us that a green light does not necessarily guarantee the way is safe to proceed.

[ ] Brackets denote reviewer de-identification.

"A municipal ALS equipped engine and a third service county ALS ambulance were dispatched by the same dispatch, on the same radio channel, to a local park for a trauma patient. While enroute, and less than two miles from our station, we approached a heavy traffic intersection, which is blind to the south side. Upon approach, the [brand deleted] signal preemption system (which both the engine and ambulance are equipped with) was delayed in capturing the light. The driver of the engine began to reduce speed and decelerate toward the intersection. As we approached the intersection we captured the light with the signal preemption system, giving us a GREEN light, but for whatever reason, the driver of the engine made a complete stop at the intersection. Just then the ambulance blew through the intersection, not stopping for the RED light. To our surprise, we didn't hear or see this ambulance until they were in the intersection. Only because of the driver's situational awareness and intuition (gut feeling) did we come to a complete stop to avoid a collision."

Right of way rules, line of sight approaches, traffic light pre-emption devices and emergency response SOPs all support apparatus arriving at the scene of an emergency call. Despite all these efforts, human factor plays a role in the safe arrival of all units to their dispatched destination.

Once you have read the entire account of 11-179, and the related reports, consider the following with your colleagues.
  1. Many departments now have specific rules requiring units to stop at all red lights during emergency response. If your department has such rules in effect, are there any other recommendations for intersection travel to consider?
  2. The reporter states the driver's "situational awareness and intuition" contributed to collision avoidance. How large of a role do you believe the two factors played? How do you promote/teach the effect of the "gut feeling" in your driver training sessions?
  3. How often do you encounter intersection situations with crossing emergency vehicle traffic? Given your estimate, what is your assessment of the likelihood of a collision based on the frequency?
  4. If your agency uses traffic pre-emptive signaling, how often is the system calibrated/fault-checked to ensure accuracy?
  5. How many "blind side" intersections exist in your response area? What is the significance of knowing where they are?
Emergency response ranges from high frequency, high risk to low frequency and high risk depending on how many calls for service a department receives. Reducing the risk associated, whether the frequency is high or low is an essential element of keeping our promise to the communities we serve. Doing your part by keeping your speed under control and being on the lookout for hazardous situations like intersections, will promote getting you to the scene quickly and returning for the next run.

Related Reports - Topical Relation: Driving: Intersections
Experience a near miss with another piece of apparatus while responding? Submit your report to today.

Note: The questions posed by the reviewers are designed to generate discussion and thought in the name of promoting firefighter safety. They are not intended to pass judgment on the actions and performance of individuals in the reports.

To Sign up to receive the Near-Miss Report of the Week by email, forward your request to is funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Assistance to Firefighters Grant program. Founding dollars were also provided by Fireman's Fund Insurance Company. The project is managed by the International Association of Fire Chiefs and supported by in mutual dedication to firefighter safety and survival.

We’ve provided some direct links from the ROTW webpage here, but there is a lot more on the site.

FFNMR - Report of the Week Archives [Direct Link, HERE]
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
File TitleFile SizeFile Description

  • ROTW Binder, Cover and Spine Label

  • 990 KBCover and Spine Label to make your own ROTW Binder.

  • 2006 Report of the Week Library

  • 14.8 MBComplete 2006 Report of the Week Library. ZIP File.

  • ROTW 122107: What's in your pockets? (07-1116)

  • 35 KBFF becomes entangled in wires.

  • ROTW 121407: The deafening silence of culture. (07-1142)

  • 38 KBSafety issues overlooked during emergency response.

  • ROTW 120707: 'Sun' and 'Block' take on a new meaning. (07-1119)

  • 36 KBSunshine fould driver's vision.

  • ROTW 113007: Use 3D for vacant and burning: distance, defensive, deluge. (05-618)

  • 49 KBFighting fire in a vacant structure, concerns addressed.

  • ROTW 111607: Probies are not expendable. (07-776)

  • 35 KBAerial stabilizer narrowly misses firefighter.

  • ROTW 110907: Nearly done in by our own kind. (07-1108)

  • 35 KBRe-opening a roadway requires coordination.

  • ROTW 110207: The importance of using wheel locks and its effects. (06-173)

  • 37 KBWildland/urban interface fire reveals personnel/equipment needs.

  • ROTW 102607: Contractor Mishap. (07-1043)

  • 37 KBApparatus electrified during test by contractor.

  • ROTW 101907: Asleep at the wheel and no one noticed. (07-752)

  • 35 KBDriver falls asleep on EMS call.

  • ROTW 101207: Faster than you can call a Mayday... (05-567)

  • 38 KBRoof collapse ignites bedroom injuring firefighter.

  • ROTW 100507: It's not 'just a car fire...' (07-800)

  • 28 KBEngine contacts downed powerline at accident scene.

  • ROTW 092807: Intuition adverts danger. (05-553)

  • 38 KBStructure fire in concealed ceiling causes collapse, nearly trapping interior crews.

  • ROTW 092107: Blowout on the front apron. (07-910)

  • 34 KBTire blows following apparatus check.

  • ROTW 091407: Leave your eyes to Z87.1. (07-964)

  • 35 KBSafety glasses do their job during extrication.
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7

    For some Program insights, check out the recent posting on National Firefighter Near-Miss Reporting System; Untapped Resource or go Directly to the site, HERE

    These are some of the Site File Categories;

    National Firefighter Near Miss Reporting System on Facebook, HERE

    For a direct point of contact at the NFFNMRS;

    Rynnel Gibbs, Program Coordinator
    National Fire Fighter Near-Miss Reporting System
    4025 Fair Ridge Drive Fairfax, VA 22033
    P: 703-537-4858 F: 703-273-0920

    Saturday, July 2, 2011

    Remembering Hackensack and Gloucester

    As we approach the July 4th holiday period, two significant LODD incidents previously occurred during this time frame that hold a number of lessons learned related to command management, operations, building construction principles and building performance, fire behavior and the ever present dangers of the job.

    Take the opportunity to learn more about these events, and expand your insights and knowledge base.

    Take a moment to reflect upon the supreme sacrifice made by these heroic firefighters and the messages that lay within the pages of the incident case studies, reports and summaries.

    There’s a lot of practical safety and operational information on these events along with a tremendous volume of information in the various text books on strategy and tactics, incident command and building construction.

    Learn from the past so we don’t repeat it. Remember- NO MORE HISTORY REPEATING EVENTS!

    For the complete article and insights on the Hackensack Ford Fire (1988) and the Gloucester Collapse (2002) go to HERE

    Addtional Link on Bowstring Truss Safety Considerations;


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