Window Washers Hold On For Dear Life

Platform Swings Free After Anchor Collapses

Two window washers were nearly knocked off their platform in downtown Denver after a boom that secured the platform to the building broke, sending the platform swinging wildly in the air for several terrifying minutes.

"Two workers were going to wash windows on the 12th floor. They had just set down their outrigging of their platform. They dropped the platform to the 12th floor when one of the booms, on the roof support, started to collapse," said Denver Fire Lt. Phil Champagne.

Fortunately, the men were able to hold on and were rescued by firefighters who had to break a window on the 12th floor to pull the window washers to safety. The men suffered only minor injuries and were not transported to the hospital.

The accident occurred just before 10:30 a.m. at the Denver Place Plaza Tower, located at 1099 18th St.

Witnesses say after the support line broke, the metal platform swung back and forth and around in the air for several minutes, knocking out several windows. ()

"It began to swing violently away from the building, to and fro the building -- about 40 foot out and 150 feet on the swing. It broke out a lot of glass," said Champagne.

"We were making a delivery right across the street and all of a sudden I hear this scream coming down and I thought it was the construction guys. Then we looked up and then the rails were knocking back and forth, knocking all the windows out," said witness Juanito Tamez. "You should have seen all the glass that coming down. It was crazy ... It was swinging pretty far out ... I don't know what the hell you're doing cleaning windows in this kind of wind."

Nearly two dozen windows are broken on what appear to be 12th floor of the building. Papers and debris flew out of the offices and started to blow all over the place, making the street below look like a disaster zone.

"We do have one residual injury inside the building. That was a result, I believe, of fire crews entering the building. There's a lot of mass confusion on the 12th floor, as you can imagine. We had a lot of contents going out of that window because of the pressure," said Champagne.

Firefighters had to block off the street and clear the area because of the raining glass and debris. Several cars parked on the street below have dents and broken windows.

Once the accident was reported, firefighters worked quickly to get the window washers to safety. When the platform swung close to the building, firefighters used a hook to pull the platform in and secure it as the window washers were carefully brought into the 12th floor.

"Our equipment only goes to about 10th floor of those buildings. We had to do an interior rescue. So they thought very quickly, broke out the additional glass. We tried to secure the area below us the best we could and pull those two parties from the scaffolding to inside the building," Champagne said.

Investigators are trying to figure out what caused the boom anchor to break. They know for certain that the heavy winds played a huge role in the incident as well. Gusts of 20-30 mph were reported in the area at that time.

Investigators with the Occupational Safety and Health Adminstration will look into why the men were working on such a windy day. Firefighters said given the conditions, the men shouldn't have been out there working in the first place.

"People don't realize that you get winds 35 mph and in between buildings you get tunneling effect, which can increase it about 20, 25 mph," Champagne said.

The 12th story of the Denver Plaza Tower remains evacuated.

Workers in the building across the street say the entire event was a scary thing to witness. One said that a window washer even appeared to be signaling to them for help as he clung on to the floor of the platform for dear life. Others said that at one time, the platform looked like it was completely vertical and one of the men was holding on to a rope so he wouldn't fall off.

"I was expecting to see two people die and that was probably the scariest part," said witness Bret McDermott. "It was in slow motion. Everything was in slow motion. It was incredible ... We watched the glass fall down on the cars and smash the tops of the cars and the windows of the cars. It was not a pretty sight to watch."

The platform has been secured to the building but traffic to the area remains blocked. Firefighters are knocking the remaining glass from the windows and they are worried that it might fall below and injure a pedestrian.

Police say 18th is closed from Champa to Arapahoe, Curtis is closed at 17th, and Arapahoe is closed at 19th. The Denver Police Department was expected to reopen the area by Thursday.

Window Washers In Same Company Injured Day Before

Wednesday was the second day in a row that window washers were involved in accidents in Downtown Denver.

In Tuesday's accident, two window washers employed by the same company were injured when the platform fell on top of them as they were working on the roof of a building at 1875 Lawrence Street.

OSHA is investigating why Bob Popp Building Services Inc. has had two serious accidents on two successive days.

Donn Popp said his brother's two employees were actually trying to get off the platform when the accident occurred Wednesday morning.

"Well, you know, it wasn't blowing when they first got out there. It came up after they started working," said Donn Popp.

Supervisors inspect each highrise site three to four times a day, and had just told the crew to move up to the roof, to safety, when the winds picked up, Popp said.

The men in Tuesday's incident broke several bones.

"It just hurts, you know, when it happens to your own guys," a Popp worker had said.

Popp said the company had eight two-person teams washing the windows of Denver highrises when the accident occurred.

The company carries a $10 million general liability insurance policy.

"And we've kept a good handle on it. We've been in business 30 years and this is the first time anything like this has happened," said Popp.

The company will review what happened in both cases knowing that Wednesday's quit order came just a few minutes too late.

"They were heading up to do that and ran into trouble on the way, and, you know the result," Popp said.

An OSHA inspector was walking in this area, coming from the first accident scene at 18th and Lawrence, when he noticed that the platform was hanging awkwardly. He decided to stick around, recognizing that this incident would very likely have to be investigated as well.

OSHA oversees what these workers, but a spokeman said they don't have rules for everything. He believes specific guidelines for wind speed are left up to the company.

OSHA can issue a citation or fine a company involved in an accident such as this. Investigators will look at weather conditions, equipment maintenance and employee training. The investigation may take six months.

Records show that the company has been inspected six times by OSHA. It was cited once back in 1990. The company can be fined up to $7,000 per violation should OSHA find any wrongdoing.

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