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Damaged scaffolding to be removed this weekend after explosion at BGE offices in downtown Baltimore injured 21 people

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.

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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.

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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.

There is still a police presence around the BG&E building on Fayette Street which is still closed to traffic after an explosion on Wednesday. December 24, 2020
There is still a police presence around the BG&E building on Fayette Street which is still closed to traffic after an explosion on Wednesday. December 24, 2020 (Lloyd Fox/Baltimore Sun)

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.

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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.”

A worker stands on the end of a dangling scaffold as he waits to be rescued following an explosion at Baltimore Gas and Electric's offices at 2 Center Plaza Wednesday morning. At least 21 people were injured in the construction-related explosion.
A worker stands on the end of a dangling scaffold as he waits to be rescued following an explosion at Baltimore Gas and Electric's offices at 2 Center Plaza Wednesday morning. At least 21 people were injured in the construction-related explosion. (Jerry Jackson/Baltimore Sun)

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.

They’re in “pretty decent condition,” Ford said.

Jessica Mazan, 38, was taking her mother to a medical appointment when firetruck after firetruck rushed by.

”The firetrucks just kept coming and coming,” said Mazan, of Brooklyn.

Mazan said she saw medics guide one of the workers into the back of an ambulance. She said the responders gave him a blanket, but she was relieved that the worker seemed to be OK.

A worker hangs near the end of a dangling scaffold as he waits to be rescued following an explosion at Baltimore Gas and Electric's offices at 2 Center Plaza Wednesday morning. At least 21 people were injured in the construction related explosion.
A worker hangs near the end of a dangling scaffold as he waits to be rescued following an explosion at Baltimore Gas and Electric's offices at 2 Center Plaza Wednesday morning. At least 21 people were injured in the construction related explosion. (Jerry Jackson/Baltimore Sun)

Keith Osterman, 38, and Robert Friedel, 58, were working construction in a neighboring building and were just outside when they heard the explosion.

”It was loud and everything around here shook,” Osterman said.

Scared, they looked up, Osterman said. “And then we seen the debris falling, which was the scaffolding and a bunch of glass.”

”A hard hat fell down, so we didn’t know if there was anyone in that lift,” Osterman said.

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.”

Mayor Brandon Scott praised the work of the rescue crews.

“Without their bravery and quick response, the outcome could have been much worse,” he said in a statement.

Baltimore Sun reporter McKenna Oxenden contributed to this article.

The area around the BG&E building on Fayette Street is still closed to traffic after an explosion on Wednesday. December 24, 2020
The area around the BG&E building on Fayette Street is still closed to traffic after an explosion on Wednesday. December 24, 2020 (Lloyd Fox/Baltimore Sun)
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