Demolition company facing fines after power plant collapse that killed two, injured three

Posted at 9:28 AM, Apr 12, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-05 12:26:33-04

CINCINNATI — A Detroit-based demolition company is facing fines of $14,475 after the Dec. 9 collapse of the Killen power plant in Adams County, where two men were killed and three people were injured.

The Occupational Safety & Health Administration proposed two separate fines on Jan. 25 and Feb. 2 against Adamo Demolition Company, which is contesting both citations on which the fines are based, according to OSHA records.

Adamo declined to be interviewed, saying OSHA is conducting an ongoing investigation. But it released a statement to address some of WCPO's questions.

"The safety and well-being of our employees is paramount," the statement said. "If any employee ever felt unsafe at a particular job site, we would address that issue immediately and responsibly to make certain their concerns were resolved to their satisfaction."

The WCPO 9 I-Team has been investigating the Killen collapse by talking to current and former Adamo employees and their family members, seeking records from government agencies and researching a 2015 demolition project in which Adamo’s former CEO was fatally injured. Here is a summary of what we learned:

  • OSHA’s proposed fines in Adams County are roughly half of what the agency originally proposed for the 2015 incident.
  • Two lawsuits alleged the 2015 incident was caused by improper cuts to the metal support structure of a coal-conveyor bridge that collapsed, causing one death and one serious injury. The complaints, which were later settled, alleged a lack of oversight on the project.
  • One former Adamo employee told the I-Team the Killen project wasn’t properly supervised. One of the men killed in the collapse told his fiancée that cuts to the Killen support structure were not inspected as required by Adamo’s handbook.

“Adamo denies that its rules and procedures concerning the verification of cuts was not followed,” wrote Christian Hauser, a Troy, Mich. attorney who represents the company. “To the contrary, Adamo utilizes a detailed and comprehensive process regarding structural cuts to the steel in advance of blasting. There was no lack of supervision with respect to any component of this project.”

Inside the Killen plant

Former Adamo employee Labe Griffith did not think the project was well supervised.

“Absolutely not,” Griffith said. One supervisor "wouldn’t even get out of the truck. He’s physically not able. He would stay in the truck and look at things from afar. No, it was not properly supervised.”

The supervisor declined to answer the I-Team's questions, referring our call to the company.

Griffith said he worked as a laborer at the Killen site from September to mid-November, when he was laid off. He said there was a lot of pressure to keep the job on schedule.

"I felt unsafe every day," he said. “I was never so relieved in my life to be laid off from a job.”

Jamie Fitzgerald also had safety concerns about the Killen plant before he perished in the collapse, according to Fitzgerald’s fiancée, Lora Conley.

“No one was inspecting the guys before they made these cuts, like it was supposed to, like it was in their handbook from Adamo,” Conley said. “I do know that because Jamie had made numerous comments about that.”

Lora Conley lost fiancee Jamie Fitzgerald in the Dec. 9 collapse of the Killen power plant in Adams County.

Power plants tough to demolish

Demolition contractors make cuts to weaken the support structure of buildings before using explosives to drop them safely, said Thomas Eagar, a professor of materials engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The goal is to make debris fall inward, toward the center of the building site, Eagar said. Power plants are particularly tricky because they have large, high roofs and different kinds of support structures for different parts of the building.

“It’s a controlled explosion, but it’s also a very sophisticated structural engineering problem, where you’ve taken out all of the extra safety beams and columns and have just enough to hold the building up until you set off the charges,” Eagar said. “Unfortunately, there’s many things that can go wrong. That’s why you have to have competent supervision.”

Litigants cited lapses in project oversight in two separate lawsuits sparked by the 2015 collapse of a conveyor bridge at the Muskingum River power plant in Southeastern Ohio. In a 2016 complaint, a Michigan man who worked for Adamo, Ahmed Hussein, alleged he suffered “serious and permanent injuries” at Muskingum River. Hussein's lawsuit said he made cuts to the conveyor bridge “as he had been directed by” the plant’s owner and Dykon Explosive Demolition Corp., an Adamo subcontractor.

In 2017, the widow of John Adamo claimed her husband was killed in the bridge collapse because “Hussein made straight line cuts instead of the vee-shaped cuts typically used to weaken a structure for this type of explosive demolition.” The cuts led to the “premature collapse” of the structure, Carolyn Adamo alleged. She accused Dykon of “failing to properly supervise those, including Mr. Hussein, making the cuts and/or other steps to weaken the structure.”

Dykon answered Hussein’s allegations in 2017 by arguing Adamo’s contracts with the plant’s owner, Muskingum River Development LLC, made Adamo “solely responsible for the safety of their employees” and for “all means and methods of performing the work,” including “the effects of demolition preparations… on the structural integrity of the coal conveyor bridge.”

The cases ended with a 2018 settlement for Hussein and 2019 settlement for Carolyn Adamo.

Adamo violation history

OSHA issued three serious violations and one deemed “other than serious” against Adamo in the Muskingum River collapse. Those citations resulted in a proposed fine of $28,000, which was later reduced to $12,500 in a formal settlement with OSHA. Records indicate 10 people were exposed to hazardous conditions in the incident, which received a “gravity” rating of 10 out of 10. OSHA rates the gravity of violations based on the severity and likelihood of injury or illness due to the alleged violation. It's one of the biggest factors impacting the size of fines.

In its ongoing investigation of the Killen collapse, OSHA has issued one serious and one other-than-serious violation so far, resulting in proposed fines totaling $14,475. The agency wouldn’t explain the reasoning behind the proposed fines or release copies of the citations prior to publication of this story.

After publication, OSHA supplied copies of the citations, which alleged violations from last summer that were discovered during inspections that followed the Dec. 9 collapse.

Eagar found it troubling that Adamo had two fatal demolition accidents in five years.

“If you’ve run into problems in the past you should be extra careful in the future,” he said. “It doesn’t sound to me that these people put the controls in place to have a quality program to make sure they wouldn’t have these types of accidents again.”

Conley hopes OSHA’s final report explains what caused the collapse.

“I just want answers," she said. "I want to know why this happened. I want my kids to know that Jamie did everything he was supposed to do and that he wanted out of there.”

Jamie Fitzgerald.png
Jamie Fitzgerald, right, is the final missing worker trapped inside the collapsed Killen Generating Station in Manchester, Ohio.

Adamo declined to answer questions about similarities between the Muskingum River collapse and problems at the Killen plant. Its attorney’s statement asked for patience among those looking for answers.

“While we recognize there is a great deal of sorrow in the community due to this accident, it is important that this does not lead to speculation or a disregard for the truth,” Hauser wrote. “Adamo takes this situation very seriously and we are committed to working and cooperating with OSHA as the investigation continues into the events that led to this terrible accident.”