Lessons learned from garage collapse help with future preparedness | Clearwater

CLEARWATER — Lessons learned while on scene at the collapse of Plymouth Plaza parking garage Dec. 20. 2021, will likely improve the response to future unusual events, according to a report released April 4 by Clearwater Fire & Rescue.

A 23-year-old Brandon man, later identified as Mitchell Thomas Klock, a Brandon resident and owner of M Klock Welding, died when a concrete stairwell on the southwest corner of the garage at 26750 US 19 N. in Clearwater collapsed. Klock was trapped between landing levels.

The recovery

Due to the instability of the structure, it took Clearwater Fire & Rescue 42-hours to safely remove the victim’s body during an extended operation that involved a technical rescue team, structural engineers and specialized heavy machinery.

Fire & Rescue’s report of the incident includes a walk-through of events that began 12:26 pm that Monday when crews were met by one of Klock’s co-workers outside in the parking lot and continues until the body was recovered at 6:33 am Tuesday, Dec. 22.

Planning began while Fire & Rescue was still on the road. The operation was downgraded from a rescue incident to a recovery incident before crews arrived. Among the first things done was to shore up the building to ensure safety. An extended-use operations post was set up. Work to prepare for the demolition continued all night into the morning.

Technical engineers from Tampa were requested to lend assistance. Duke Energy and the city of Clearwater were asked to secure utilities. Specialized engineers and technical operations personnel arrived to assist with heavy equipment and machinery needed to remove the stairwell.

A private structural engineer arrived on scene and a contractor with experience in controlled demolition and necessary specialized equipment was brought in to deconstruct the stairwell from the top down. Clearwater Fire & Rescue with assistance from the structural engineer removed the 20-30 private vehicles that had been in the parking garage, which was being used by eight tenants plus Tampa Bay Water.

Preparations for demolition was complete by 3 pm Dec. 21 and demolition began at 6:24 pm Crews reached the slab of concrete on top of Klock’s body by 5 am the next day. The technical rescue team and the demolition team then worked together to recover the body, which was done by 6:33 am

Klock’s family remained on scene the entire time and was kept informed throughout the incident, according to Fire & Rescue’s report. In addition, fire department chaplains were on scene to provide support.

Lessons learned

Technical rescue responses can become very long and extended was among the lessons learned from the collapse described as an “unusual incident.”

In addition, having assistance from technical team leaders can be beneficial, especially when getting engineers to the scene. Having heavy emergency equipment assessable prior to the response by the technical team can also be beneficial, as well as having units from Sunstar on standby.

“Having city contacts readily available for needed resources is important,” the report said.

The contacts included public utilities (water meter), engineering (permit for demolition), parks and recreation (portable lighting), city’s manager’s office (assistant city manager needed to sign contracts) and the city legal department.

One result from the incident was Fire & Rescue’s improved action plan, which includes sharing lessons learned.

“We will need to share the information learned from this unusual event with chief offices so they will be better prepared for similar incidents,” the report said. “The city of Clearwater had to take financial responsibility early in the incident when it went from rescue to recovery. This put the on-scene chief officers in a precarious position as they had to seek approval from city management.

“Extended operations such as this one require a great deal of time and commitment. We must ensure that the command roles are properly staffed.”

About the job

Klock had been hired to do work on the garage after it failed a city of Clearwater inspection. The owner, Plymouth Plaza LLC, was sent a notice of an unsafe building July 19, 2021. A city building inspector later notified a co-owner that the city would not be enforcing the deadline to make repairs and it could be disregarded.

The building inspector followed up on progress with repairs Oct. 12, 2021. The owner told him he was having difficulties getting a contractor to take the job but had hired Forgue General Contracting to make necessary repairs in November. Forgue then hired Klock to do the welding. Klock began working on Dec. 8, 2021.

According to Fire & Rescue’s report, questions remain as to whether or not Forgue and/or Klock were properly licensed to do work in Pinellas County at the time of the incident or if the job had required them to be licensed.

Officials still did not what caused the garage to collapse. Clearwater police has concluded its investigation and sent the report to the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney’s office. No criminal charges had been filed as of April 5 and none were expected.

According to the Tampa Bay Times, a wrongful death lawsuit has been filed against Plymouth Plaza by Klock’s widow Alexis. The lawsuit claims the structure was in a “dangerous and hazardous state” when Klock showed up to work on it.

Suzette Porter is TBN’s Pinellas County editor. She can be reached at sporter@tbnweekly.com.

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