FARGO — Cranes towering over downtown Fargo's Block 9 development are susceptible to high wind speeds. With Dallas and Seattle recently experiencing deadly crane collapses, what is happening here to avoid a similar construction catastrophe?

Keith Leier, Block 9 Project Manager for Kilbourne Group, said there are daily and annual inspections of cranes before operating.

A third-party company conducts a larger inspection once assembled and licensed crane operators with McGough Construction perform daily general inspections. If a crane is erected in one location for more than a year, the company will do another inspection.

Block 9 cranes will come down later this year or the beginning of next year, he said.

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Operators check pin connections, safety controls and ensure things are properly greased before ascending hundreds of feet in the air. And when it comes to wind, he said they operate until speeds reach around 40 mph.

“We don't try to fight the wind at that point,” he said. “What kind of wind it would take to knock it over? It would take a very severe hurricane or tornado to be able to take it down.”

At the end of every shift, Leier said the cranes are set up like weathervanes to drift in the direction of the wind.

McGough works regularly with Fargo first responders who are part of the technical rescue team. Mock safety drills at the busy downtown construction site have addressed different emergency scenarios.

The parking ramp of the Block 9 project takes shape in downtown Fargo. File Photo.
The parking ramp of the Block 9 project takes shape in downtown Fargo. File Photo.

Fargo Fire Captain Benjamin Willey said first responders stay updated on the construction phases and frequently visit the site to be familiar with how to get in and out in case of an emergency.

If a crane operator suffers a medical emergency, Willey said responders know how to rig up a high-angle rescue to bring them down. In the event of a crane collapse, he said depending on the direction it falls, first responders triage buildings.

"We always have to prepare for the worst-case scenario, but our assumption is that crane is up to code and is inspected according to code," Willey said. "We're as prepared as we can be. That's all we can do until something occurs."

Willey said cranes are up somewhere in Fargo each year. The new Sanford Hospital, additions at Essentia Health as well as college dorms all had cranes on construction sites, and first responders treated those projects the same as Block 9.

Wind factor

WDAY Meteorologist John Wheeler said he’s not concerned about a crane collapse and used the Red River Valley Fair as a comparison.

“There are all these tall rides and always thunderstorms that blow through Fargo at some point during the fair in July. How many times have we heard about those toppling over?” Wheeler said. “There’s a risk when you set up a tall crane like that, but I don't think – as long as it's being maintenanced – the probabilities are particularly high.”

Wheeler pointed to the last time Fargo experienced a storm wreaking havoc to towering structures. In 2011, a Memorial Day storm damaged all three WDAY-AM 970 Radio towers, with one completely collapsing that was first erected in 1942.

“It survived everything up until that particular storm,” he said.

The National Weather Service, as it typically does after major storms, estimated wind speed at around 140 mph. “But it wasn’t 140 mph all over Fargo,” Wheeler said.

So when it’s widely reported that the June 9 crane collapse in Dallas occurred during wind gusts of up to 70 mph, Wheeler said that’s not exactly what wind speeds reached at the crane site. It was likely windier, because gusts up to 75 to 80 mph can take down large trees.

Investigations are underway to determine the causes of the Dallas collapse that killed a 29-year-old woman, as well as the April 27 Seattle crane collapse that killed four people. It’s believed bolts securing the Seattle crane were loosened as crews prepared to dismantle it, the Seattle Times reported. That caused a similar disaster in Dallas in 2012.

“It's very unfortunate to see those types of industry accidents,” Leier said. “There are thousands and thousands of tower cranes in the air in the U.S. alone. It’s a rare occurrence. You hate to see it happen, but there are many involved in the safe assembly and design and operations of this equipment.”