It has become an altogether too common story. A welder working on a cell tower accidently ignites the insulation and the structure goes up in smoke. Most recently, sparks from a welder caused a fire, Jan. 6, on a Crown Castle cell tower in Brownsville, Texas. No injuries were reported.
Cell tower fires are a safety concern being addressed by the National Association of Tower Erectors, which convened the Telecommunications Industry Safety Summit in late October 2013 in Dallas. The Wireless Industry Safety Task Force, which grew out of the summit, is addressing skills-based training such as welding, such as welding. “There is a tremendous need for skills-based training. Those skills are being taught out there in certain circumstances, but the industry is so much more sophisticated now,” Todd Schlekeway, NATE executive director, told AGL Link. “CAD [exothermic] welding training comes up quite often in our discussions to increase safety and will certainly be a part of the work that the task force dives into.”
There were at least two tower fires reported last year that led to high-level drama. Thankfully, no fatalities resulted.
Last August, two tower workers escaped injury when the structure they were working on caught fire, Aug. 20, in Sanford, Fla. The crew was reportedly performing welding on the 127-foot tower when cabling caught fire. As the welder attempted to come down the structure, the bucket that was carrying him became stuck. He got out and rappelled while another man climbed down the tower.
In June, a 118-foot cell tower owned by AT&T exploded into flames and thick black smoke in Bensalem, Penn., after sparks from a welder got into the insulation on the cables igniting a fire that quickly moved 10 feet above and below them. The crew, which was subcontracted to put steps in at about 80 feet off the ground, attempted to put out the blaze with fire extinguishers but failed, so they rappelled down the tower as the flames spread.
Tower techs may use an exothermic process to make electrical connections to ground a tower, a process in which temperatures are generated in excess of 1,650 degrees Fahrenheit.