Kingston, Ont., officials concerned crane could collapse from fire damage

A daring helicopter rescue that saved a man gripping to the edge of a construction crane engulfed in flames may not be the last of the drama playing out in downtown Kingston, Ont., with officials concerned that the fire-damaged crane could still collapse.

Fire crews continue working to put out the last embers of a blaze that consumed a mid-construction student housing building that caught fire, Tuesday afternoon.

The fire captured attention across the country due to stunning images and video of a crane operator precariously clinging to the end of the massive construction crane and a daring helicopter rescue by members of the 424 "Tiger" Transport and Rescue Squadron based out of CFB Trenton.

Helicopter pilot Capt. David Agnew told the Kingston Whig-Standard that the series of events was more like "something you see in the movies." The rescue crew was forced to swoop through a layer of smoke, before hovering directly above the worker and pulling him from the perch.

Crane Operator Rescue by 424 Sqn, 8Wg Trenton.: http://t.co/KAdq2VdRjl via @youtube #SAR

— 424 Tiger Squadron (@424_Sqn) December 17, 2013

[ Related: Crane operator trapped by raging fire rescued by military chopper ]

There were no fatalities in the blaze, though the man rescued from the construction crane suffered burns to several parts of his body. But even as flames died down on Wednesday, the threat of a crane collapse remained troubling for the downtown area around the site.

"Right now the biggest is having that crane in its current condition. It has been impinged by fire and is in a damaged condition," Kingston Fire Chief Rheaume Chaput told reporters on Wednesday. "We want to make sure we make that safe, get that down and then we can start opening up Princess Street and start getting things back to normal."

Chaput said engineers are working to determine how badly the crane was damaged and the likelihood of a collapse.

The Office of the Fire Marshal of Ontario was set to visit Kingston and an investigation is expected to occur once the site has been fully secured. Yet there appeared to be reason to be concerned about the amount of damage a fire at the site would cause.

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The student residence development was notably constructed out of wood rather than concrete or other material. Kingston's planning committee recently received a letter from a resident expressing concern over the project.

"The structure is known locally as the 'Tinderbox' for an obvious reason: it is made completely of some sort of press or chip board with no concrete or steel. With the planned number of bedrooms already housed in the structure being directly proportional to the number of people to be sleeping there, presumably 485, there is already an extremely high probability that accidents resulting in fire will occur," the letter reads.

Firefighters battle a major fire in downtown Kingston, Ont., Tuesday, Dec.17, 2013. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Lars Hagberg
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The Canadian Press
Tue, 17 Dec, 2013 5:00 PM EST
 Kingston Mayor Mark Gerretsen told CBC's Ottawa Morning on Wednesday that he had doubts about the large wooden structure.

"I'll be the first to admit — driving by this building, and I did on a daily basis — as I saw the wood structure go up, and having some experience in the construction world outside of my business at City Hall, I thought to myself, 'Well, this is a pretty big structure to be made out of wood entirely.' So I think that the concerns are valid. I think that many members of the community shared that concern," he said.

Several adjacent buildings were also damaged by the fire. At the height of the blaze, there was concern that a nearby gas station would be consumed.

Meantime, fire officials were still concerned about the crane coming down. “We have a collapse zone set up and we are prepared if it does fall,” Chaput said.

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