SMITHFIELD, R.I. — The boom that thundered across the Bryant University campus and the pile of twisted steel and overturned aerial lifts made emergency workers fear the worst. But the six workers they pulled from the pile Tuesday escaped with relatively minor injuries, despite the sudden collapse of a partially completed field house.
“Some very lucky people took the ride down,” Smithfield Deputy Fire Chief James Grenga said of the workers caught in the collapse, who were placed in neck restraints on backboards and taken by ambulance to Rhode Island Hospital. “They’re very lucky to be alive.”
Authorities could not say what caused the collapse of the steel framework, which was meant to be the ribbing and rafters for an indoor practice facility that would contain a full 100-yard turf playing field, plus end zones, under a nearly two-acre roof.
The initial report of the collapse, which left a tangle of ruined metal at the construction site, caused emergency crews from at least a half-dozen departments to rush to the scene.
Smithfield Fire Chief Bob Seltzer, whose department is coordinating the investigation, said the construction site supervisor reported the incident about 8:15 a.m.
“Something went wrong,’’ Seltzer said. “We don’t know what it was.”
By late afternoon, four of the injured workers had been treated and released by Rhode Island Hospital’s emergency department, while two remained under evaluation but were in good condition, hospital spokeswoman Beth Bailey said.
The accident occurred on a distant corner of the 435-acre Bryant campus, beyond a series of outdoor ball fields. Fall classes have not yet begun at Bryant, and only student-athletes and international students are on campus.
None of those students was near the construction site at the time of the collapse, Bryant spokeswoman Liz O’Neil said, and the incident is not expected to disrupt the start of the academic year.
Amid the firefighters and police who remained at the taped-off scene, two inspectors from the Providence office of the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration could be seen surveying the wreckage.
“The purpose of OSHA’s inspection is to determine whether or not there were any violations of workplace safety standards in connection with this incident,” OSHA spokesman Ted Fitzgerald said. The investigation could take months.
The construction of the 78,000-square-foot structure — an indoor practice facility for Bryant’s Division I athletic teams — is being managed by general contractor A/Z Corp. It was not immediately clear whether the injured workers were contractors or subcontractors. A/Z did not respond to a call to its Connecticut headquarters seeking comment.
The university is cooperating with the investigation by multiple agencies officials said.
School leaders held a ceremonial groundbreaking in May at the indoor practice facility, part of a $75 million building boom at the school.