DIGGING DEEPER: Is the demolition safe at the old hospital downtown?

St. Joe Demolition
St. Joe Demolition(WPTA)
Published: Sep. 13, 2022 at 7:43 PM EDT
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FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WPTA) - Monday, a part of the building collapsed during the demolition at the old hospital in downtown Fort Wayne. There were no injuries, however, this isn’t the first time something has happened during the demolition process at the worksite.

On our ABC21 Facebook page, almost 300 people made comments expressing concerns about safety at the demolition site. So our Digging Deeper team decided to try and answer the question, is the demolition safe at the old hospital downtown?

Social Media Posts
Social Media Posts(WPTA)

Monday, crews with the Fort Wayne Fire Department responded to the former Saint Joseph Hospital in downtown Fort Wayne partially collapsed on top of construction equipment.

Crews on the scene told WPTA that part of the building along Main Street, near Broadway, collapsed and fell on an excavator that a demolition worker was operating. Luckily, FWFD Deputy Chief Adam O’Connor says no one was injured in the incident.

Leaders with Lutheran Health Network responded with a statement, however, ABC21 News wanted more clarification on the incident and responded with some questions and an interview request.

How exactly was the equipment damaged? To what extent was the worker at risk of being injured? Will there be additional safety measures taken at the site after the incident? How will you keep bystanders/drivers safe who are in the area of the demolition if the building is at risk of collapsing?

Leaders responded with this new statement below.

“Yesterday’s demolition activity involved separating the existing stairwell tower connection from the main hospital structure. While this scheduled activity went as planned, a bit of debris from the controlled fall of the stairwell landed on the boom of the excavator causing minor damage. This is not uncommon during a complex building demolition, and excavators like the one used at the site are designed to keep the operator at a safe distance from debris. The building remains stable and methodical work to demolish is continuing. The project contractor has a proven track record managing older hospital demolitions and handling the unique safety issues associated with them. We continue to work with the building department and other local officials to ensure the worksite and surrounding area remains safe during demolition. No warnings or citations have been received.”

This incident isn’t the first time something like this has happened at the demolition site.

In February, a man was found with severe burns at the worksite. Back in June, the area around the hospital had to be closed to traffic after a demolition contractor accidentally started a small fire, creating concerns about a possible building collapse.

Monday, ABC21 reporter Karli VanCleave asked Mayor Tom Henry what he thought about the safety concerns at the demolition site. He says people should avoid the area.

“Well obviously that’s a tremendously large building. My advice to citizens right now is to just stay away from that environment for right now,” Mayor Henry said. “It is an 8 or 9 story building and they’ve been going through demolition for quite some period of time now. So now comes the real dangerous part, they’re going through taking down the top of the building. My advice for everyone is to just stay away.”

Additionally, BRITT Demolition & Recycling is the contractor on the site. On the Occupational Safety and Health Administration website (OSHA), there’s one violation after an inspection in February. The violation says it’s active and they were fined. ABC21 News talked to the owner of the company, Tommy Britt, over the phone. He says it was an administrative violation after submitting paperwork past the deadline. Britt did not respond to our interview request.

OSHA violations
OSHA violations(WPTA)

Our ABC21 Digging Deeper team has submitted a Freedom of Information Act(FOIA) request to the U.S. Department of Labor to verify. Our team also submitted an Indiana Public Records request to the Allen County Building Department requesting prior citations and inspection reports. Leaders at the Allen County Building Department said they had no one available for an interview, Tuesday.

As comments continue to come in on our station social media pages, our team will continue to investigate the concerns.

Stay with us for updates.