Near disaster on 213-foot wind turbine - rescue just in time

Electrical workers rescued following a fire at one of the MidAmerican Energy turbines

Two electrical workers were treated and released at Buena Vista Regional Medical Center last week after they were rescued following a fire at one of the MidAmerican Energy turbines just south of Schaller. The workers were doing electrical work on a control panel inside the 213-foot turbine support tube. Firefighter Armon Haselhoff said the department received the call at 7:35 p.m. and responded to the turbine site where the doors were shut "to keep the oxygen from feeding it" since the tube could potentially have acted as a chimney. Firefighters used 20-pound extinguishers to put out the fire which had apparently started from a short circuit during testing.

Haselhoff said the workers were at the top of the tube where they were able to get ventilation through hatches. Once the fire was under control, two firefighters from the Schaller Fire Department, Jeff Sandhoff and Jason Currie, climbed the dizzying height to help the two workers down. Currie said the turbine base acted "just like a smokestack" and he and Sandhoff set up fans to blow smoke through the top of the tower. While a fire in a 213-foot wind turbine may seem somewhat unusual, Currie said it was not something that was totally unexpected. "We knew it was coming," Currie said. "We didn't know when.". Currie said he and Sandhoff ran out of air in their air packs before they reached the top but decided to keep going. "It got worse every level we went up," Currie said. They passed through three hatches before they reached the workers at the top. "Once we climbed the tower, it was just your hands reaching in front of you," Sandhoff said." We had radio contact. They (workers) had actually gone out on top of the turbine. They got fresh air once they got to the top." Sandhoff said he ran out of air before Currie and had zero visibility. They were close enough to the top though that they could reach the trapped workers. Sandhoff estimated there were a total of 15-18 firefighters responding. According to Mark Reinders, MidAmerican communications manager, the workers were taken to Buena Vista Regional Medical Center in Storm Lake as a precautionary measure. He said there were no injuries.

Reinders said MidAmerican was not involved in the incident since the turbine is still under construction by General Electric. Reinders said the employees were hired by M.A. Mortenson, a General Electric subcontractor."We're still on schedule" to complete the Intrepid wind project by the end of the year, Reinders said. He said the project would be fully operational and commission before January 1. MidAmerican raised its last turbine for the project on Saturday. Reinders said much of the underground wiring and foundation work on the eastern phase of the project in Wright and Hamilton counties is completed. "The weather has been extremely cooperative with us," Reinders said, noting that when completed the project will be "one of the largest in the United States." On Oct. 29 MidAmerican Energy held an observance to celebrate raising the first turbine in the $323 million wind project. The 310.5-watt wind energy facility has 107 turbines in northern Sac and southern Buena Vista counties with an additional 100 planned at the Wright-Hamilton site near Blairsburg. In addition to 250 construction jobs, the project is expected to continue with 20 operations jobs.
Online editorial www.windfair.net
Trevor Sievert, Online Editorial Journalist
MidAmerican Energy turbines, wind energy, wind turbine, wind power, wind farm, offshore, onshore

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