Remember Worker Memorial Day

  • Tuesday, April 23, 2024

L'Ambiance Plaza - Brideport, CT. April 23, 1987. I can tell you where I was, what I wore, what I ate for lunch. And every time I smell offroad diesel, I can see that place. It's  imprinted on my mind. The whirlwind of days after, and now 37 years after. I think often on 28 families who kissed their loved ones as they headed to work that day. A warm, sunny, beautiful spring day. The kind of day you take off your jacket and maybe overshirt, to soak up the rays.  I was not yet 30 years old.

It was right as lunch was ending. I was not due on that worksite for a couple days. Larry and Max had gone to drop all the supplies and conduit we needed. I was just around the corner on another job. The scream came over the radio - I can hear it plain as day - "dispatch, call out every ambulance, fire! police!  everyone! The building just went down!" We didn't have cell phones; so dispatch was faster than finding a payphone.

I knew, we all knew. It was L'Ambiance - the weird looking lift slab building, that didn't look quite right, but "they said" was safe.  We broke down our job and headed to help. In fact, every hard hatted worker in the city headed to help.

I got there, and found Larry, covered in dust and in shock. I said, "where's Max"?  Larry - Pointing to the multi-story building pancaked in a pile: "He's in there". My heart - I swear it stopped.  "LARRY - WHERE IS MAX!?" I yelled.   Larry said - "He's in there trying to help".

Just about then, Max and another guy emerged from the rubble with a guy who was hurt. We stayed, we helped. We did what we could. For days. The only ones who lived were the ones who were pulled out or got out in the first few hours.

In all 27 men lost their lives that day, and one more succumbed later. Things from that day and the days after, that never leave - the smell of offroad diesel, connected to the excavators, so gently operated by the best of them, lifting concrete like it was a sheet of paper, slowly, and gently, while rescuers and dogs checked pockets. And the silence. The deafening silence when someone was found. But the worst of it - what still hurts today - there were 27 families that would walk out from the church they were waiting in, when they heard quiet. They waited near the fence, to see who it was.

One poor family did that - 27 times.

When it was over, they bulldozed the place, built a new building and installed a memorial. The federal government fined the company a whopping $430,000 in fines (at $15,000 per man), and families eventually settled for $41 million from the contractor.  No criminal charges were brought against anyone in charge.

This week is Worker Safety Awareness week. On April 28 every year, we recognize Worker Memorial day, and look back at workplace fatalities, and disabling injuries in the USA. According to BLS data, in 2022 - roughly every 96 minutes, a worker died. The total - 5,486 workers went to work and never went home.

This year - April 28 is a Sunday. Take some time to look at your family - and make yourself a promise to look out for each other, to speak up when things don't look right. Speak up and yell if you have to. No one should ever have to make that walk ever.

Kaye Fiorello

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