Firefighters battling Thursday’s massive fire in Charlotte’s South Park area abandoned a ladder truck moments before it became engulfed in flames and a building collapsed on it.
As the next few hours unfolded, the decision appeared to be life-saving.
Firefighters positioned the Fire Station 2 ladder to help rescue a crane operator trapped in the cab of the crane 160 feet high, according to emergency broadcast information. There were also two people reported as trapped inside the burning construction zone, who rescuers were trying to reach as the flames grew out of control. Officials, as of Friday 3 p.m., had not confirmed any rescue or recovery of the two missing individuals.
Ultimately, the fire ladder truck that would be destroyed was an early key for saving the man stuck on the construction crane.
“We still have a crane operator in the crane,” fire personnel said over radio. “He’s stuck on the platform trying to get out.”
“We’ll get to him,” another emergency worker said.
With collapse of the mid-rise under-construction building imminent, brave first responders were forced to be cautious.
“Back out,” the command came.
“Move that ladder.”
The truck would be left behind but Charlotte fire fighters were ordered to evacuate.
“If we don’t get them out of here … we’re gonna have some issues,” fire leaders urged, telling fire fighters to get to safety and regroup.
From a command post, a fire leader advised personnel to “put Ladder 2 straight up to protect the crane operator.”
“Ladder 2 is the only thing keeping that crane operator safe,” a person soon reported. “You shut it down, that’s it.”
Charlotte crane operator saved above fire
Close to an hour later, video showed the cab operator and a firefighter safely walking down a ladder to the ground as thick smoke billowed from the fire.
It wasn’t immediately clear Friday if the firefighter was on a different ladder or Ladder 2. It’s also not clear if water was available on Ladder 2 after personnel had to abandon it, but throughout the rescue mission, another ladder showered the metal of the construction crane with water to keep it cool enough from collapse.
On Facebook Thursday, Charlotte Fire Station 2 officials said their Ladder 2 eventually “was abandoned in a defensive position to protect civilians and was caught in a collapse, but all members are accounted for and ok.”
The department shared an aerial post-fire shot showing Ladder 2 charred, all but destroyed, at the base of the building where the fire started.
Five hours after that Facebook post, officials sent a follow-up message on the site thanking everyone who called, texted and otherwise messaged them expressing concern for their firefighters.
“We can tell you that all of the members we are ok,” according to the second Charlotte Fire Station 2 Facebook post. “Your Charlotte Firefighters faced extreme conditions and responded to multiple people trapped inside.”
“Searching for people under these conditions is extremely difficult,” Station 2 officials said on Facebook, where they also posted video sent to them showing “what your Charlotte Firefighters faced during one small part of the fire.”
“Again thank you for all the well wishes and questions about our people.”
The crane operator was rescued about 10:50 a.m., nearly 1 1/2 hours after the fire started, WSOC reported and emergency radio traffic obtained via Broadcastify by the Observer confirms.
Firefighters had to spray lots of water on the crane so it wouldn’t collapse, Charlotte Fire Chief Reginald Johnson said.
“Helluva job CFD!” a man said under one of the Station 2 Facebook posts. “Glad you were all safe!”
“God bless you all for your service and dedication,” a woman wrote on the site.