CTA Terminates Ironworkers For February 26 Fire

March 15, 2004
CTA President Frank Kruesi announced today that two ironworkers have been terminated and four others disciplined for a fire on February 26 that severely damaged a residential building at 2634 N. Wilton, did lesser damage to the exterior of neighboring buildings, and delayed service for thousands of CTA rail customers.

The CTA's investigation revealed that required safe work practices used for welding and cutting were not followed. At the time, a team of six ironworkers, including a foreman and helper, was working along the Red Line between Wrightwood (2600 North) and Diversey (2800 North). The work assigned to them involved preparing to replace steel parts (flange angles) by chiseling off rivet heads with air tools and, occasionally, using an acetylene torch to burn out rivets that could not be removed using the air tools. This is routine maintenance work that is performed regularly on all of the CTA's elevated structures.

A Chicago Fire Department investigation concluded that sparks from a cutting torch ignited combustible material on the rear porch of the building. The fire marshal concluded that the cutting torch was misused. The fire marshal also observed that no protective curtain was visible at the scene to assist in keeping sparks from coming into contact with nearby structures. The CTA requires fire resistant shields or guards to be used when cutting or welding is done near other structures.

'safety is of paramount importance?whether for our employees, our customers or neighbors," said CTA President Frank Kruesi. ?The fire would not have occurred if proper procedures were followed. Safety rules exist for a reason, and when they are not followed there are consequences."

The ironworkers were charged with violating CTA rules of conduct and safety procedures. Two were suspended for 10 days. A third was suspended for 15 days; he was one of two ironworkers using the cutting torch just before the fire. And an ironworker helper/fire watcher was suspended for 15 days. He will be prohibited from working as an ironworker helper and fire watcher for two years.

The foreman was discharged for not ensuring that the proper safety procedures were in place. And an ironworker, who was one of two using a cutting torch, was terminated for improper use of a cutting torch and because he tested positive for the presence of a controlled substance (cocaine).

The CTA employs ironworkers as full-time temporary employees, meaning that they are paid an hourly wage by the CTA, but they do not receive benefits from the CTA. They are members of Ironworkers Local 1 union. The ironworker helper is a member of Teamsters Local 726.

The foreman who was discharged had been assigned to the CTA since 1986. The discharged ironworker has worked for the CTA for 1? years.

Following the fire, the CTA made sure the 10 building tenants had alternate places to stay. The CTA is also working on a responsible settlement of the claims.

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