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Calif . rescuers pluck injured man from old Carquinez Bridge

News6-27HP

Vallejo, Calif. Rescue workers used a boat, crane, helicopter and a bit of ingenuity Tuesday to get an injured ironworker off the isolated remnants of the old Carquinez Bridge almost 200 feet in the air.

The bridge worker, who wound up with only bruises, had been struck by a forklift on the center tower of the 1927 span, which is 90 percent demolished, said Robert Ikenberry, safety director for California Engineering Contractors, Inc. The Pleasanton-based company started the $15 million demolition in January 2006 and expects to finish this year.

Tuesday's two-hour rescue happened at the worst place to get injured on the three-span Carquinez Bridge complex, officials said.

"All it is is pilings and superstructure and a little bit of roadway," Vallejo Assistant Fire Chief Greg Falkenthal said of the center tower. "If something happens, there's a very limited means of egress to get him off the structure."

Fortunately, the contractor and firefighters met frequently to prepare for such potential rescues, he said. So,when Vallejo firefighters responded at around 10 a.m., they devised three plans of action, Falkenthal said.

Initially, they hoped a CHP helicopter could pull the injured worker up on a rescue line. However, the tight quarters between the two operating bridges and the dismantled bridge, and potential wind issues, nixed that plan, Falkenthal said.

Instead, a Vallejo engine and truck responded to the left shoulder of the new Carquinez span, while a Vallejo fireboat responded to the foot of the pier, Falkenthal said.

An ambulance and Crockett paramedic took an employee boat to the center pier, while a Vallejo paramedic was dropped off by the fireboat, Falkenthal said. Those rescue workers climbed the 150-foot high scaffolding to the injured worker.

Meanwhile, firefighters atop the new span attached rescue equipment to a crane mounted on the old span's center tower, which transported the life-saving gear to the arriving rescue workers. Paramedics treated the unidentified veteran ironworker, who is in his 30s, and placed him into a rescue basket that was lowered to firefighters.

"You can't hang your hat on one plan," Falkenthal said. "It was basically a lesson in interagency cooperation."

The ordeal began when the ironworker lost control of a Bobcat loader, Ikenberry said. "Some of his safety equipment got tangled in the controls, and it just moved inadvertently and struck him," Ikenberry said.

As of the close of business Tuesday, Cal-OSHA hadn't been notified by the contractor about the incident, said agency spokesman Dean Fryer. He said companies have eight hours to inform them of workplace accidents, although certain incidents with "scrapes and bruises may not be reportable."

Fryer said his agency will check in with the company today.

Ironically, Cal-OSHA last investigated the contractor over an incident on the dismantled bridge involving the same piece of equipment. In that July 2006 accident, the same Bobcat loader rolled over an employee's ankle, Fryer said. No citations were issued.

The company, contracted by Caltrans, has methodically dismantled the steel cantilever bridge, sending scrap pieces to an Oakland steel yard, which has sold large portions to Korea, Ikenberry said.

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