Cell Tower Goes Up in Flames as Workers Rappel to Safety

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A 118-foot cell tower owned by AT&T exploded into flames and thick black smoke, June 21, in Bensalem, Penn., near Philadelphia, a dramatic scene recorded live by a WPVI-TV Philadelphia helicopter hovering above the blaze.

“The crew that was subcontracted by a carrier was putting some steps in at about 80 feet off the ground in order to put some more equipment on the tower,” Fred Harran, director of public safety, toldAGL Bulletin. “During the welding process, some sparks got into the insulation on the cables, igniting a fire that jumped 10 feet above their heads and below them as well.”

The crew attempted to put out the blaze with fire extinguishers but failed, so they rappelled down the tower as the flames spread.

Firefighters responded to the scene but, after consulting with engineers, kept their distance as the tower began to list to one side.

“It was determined that we should let the fire burn out and contain it,” Harran said. “Putting any chemicals or water on it would further damage the pole and possibly cause it to collapse.” Additionally, public safety officials were not able to confirm that power had been completely cut to the tower.

As flames shot out of the tower, local residents reported burnt plastic landing in their yards. Residents were evacuated from the area well beyond the 300-foot fall area.

“There was an assisted living facility, some houses and a highly populated playground nearby that we had to evacuate,” Harran said. “If the tower did come crashing down with all the equipment on top, it could have exploded on impact and sent shrapnel much further than 300 feet. We just wanted to be cautious.”

At the end of the day, according to Harran, no one was hurt and no damage occurred to nearby buildings. More than 10 hours later, a crane safely lowered the tower to the ground.


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