An explosion at the BGE offices in downtown Baltimore on Wednesday morning left 21 construction workers hospitalized and two window washers trapped briefly on scaffolding dangling 10 stories above the sidewalk, officials said.
Twelve of the injured workers were released from the hospital Wednesday, while nine remaining contractors are being treated for non-life-threatening injuries, BGE said in a statement Thursday morning.
A crane contractor will arrive Saturday to remove the two damaged window maintenance platforms that are currently facing east, secured in place. The Baltimore City Office of Emergency Management helped BGE secure the contractor.
Crane operations will start Saturday at 7 a.m. and run through Sunday afternoon, BGE said in a statement Christmas Eve.
The explosion shook the surrounding area of downtown Baltimore. Bystanders watched from below as the fire department rushed to rescue two workers dangling above. Rescuers pulled the window washers into the building through windows on the 10th and 11th floors of the 16-story building.
BGE said the area surrounding its office building was being cordoned off by police “for safety” and the police department confirmed that sections of two streets were still closed to traffic Thursday afternoon. West Fayette Street is closed from Charles Street to North Liberty Street and North Liberty is closed between West Fayette and Clay streets, said detective Donny Moses, Baltimore police spokesman.
The Baltimore City Fire Department responded around 8:30 a.m. to the scene at 110 W. Fayette St., and rescued 23 people from the building, spokeswoman Blair Adams said at a news conference Wednesday. The explosion caused a fire and a partial roof collapse, the department said.
Two buildings on each side of the block also were evacuated as a precaution, Adams said.
The incident at BGE’s offices was related to construction, said Stephanie Anne Weaver, the company spokeswoman, in a statement. Work on the building’s “air handling and boiler system,” which is housed on the 16th floor, likely was the culprit, she said. She said the natural gas in the building was cut off due to the construction.
Adams said the official cause of the fire remains under investigation.
Weaver said the injured construction workers were contractors with Rand Construction Corp., which did not respond to requests for comment.
BGE also said the building was mostly empty due to the coronavirus pandemic and the upcoming holidays.
Overnight, crews “tightly secured” the damaged scaffolding to the building in preparation for the heavy rain forecast for the area Thursday, a temporary safety precaution, BGE said. The company plans to remove the scaffolding completely when a high-rise crane arrives in Baltimore later this week, but is evaluating “additional safe removal options” in the meantime.
Niles Ford, the city’s fire chief, said at the news conference that the incident ran from the 10th floor to the roof.
BGE said Wednesday evening that the building had been inspected and deemed structurally sound.
Wayne Jackson, 68, said he was in the area when he witnessed a commotion. He looked up and was shocked to see the scaffolding hanging from the side of the BGE building.
From the corner of North Charles and Fayette streets, he pointed to a broken window on the high rise building. He said that’s how rescuers retrieved the stranded workers.
”They took them in through the window,” Jackson said. ”Nobody fell, nothing.”
Ford said firefighters brought the contract window washers — who were tethered in safety harnesses to wires on the side of the building — inside through windows on the 10th and 11th floors to rescue them. They easily pulled one worker through the 10th-floor window, but rescue crews needed to climb up the scaffold and cut through the 11th-floor window to bring the other worker through.
Osterman and Friedel said just two weeks ago they were putting up windows in the building that exploded — and were thankful to have been working from the inside.
Asked whether there was anything he wanted to add, Friedel said: “only that you never know.”
In addition to the fire department, Baltimore Police officers and agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives responded to the scene. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said in a tweet Wednesday afternoon that the state offered help to the city and sent workers to the scene “at their request.”