PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Pittsburgh firefighters did an incredible job under difficult conditions last week, when they put of the intense and massive fire on the Liberty Bridge.
What they didn’t know at the time, is that if the fire had burned just a few minutes longer, the bridge would have collapsed.
They sat on the truck Tuesday afternoon, in t-shirts and hats. They’re just regular guys, but in all likelihood, what they did just a few days ago saved a multi-million dollar bridge from collapse.
“We could always play coulda, woulda, shoulda, but the fact of the matter is, had we done nothing or had we backed away from it, the outcome would have been a lot different,” said Pittsburgh Bureau of Fire Deputy Chief Frank Large.
A stack of PVC piping caught fire. It burned hot, up to 1,200 degrees, enough to twist a support beam that makes up the truss of the Liberty Bridge. But firefighters didn’t know that yet.
“Perhaps ignorance is bliss, because we didn’t recognize that the fire was impinging on that beam,” said Deputy Chief Large.
Lt. Stephen Grenesko and another firefighter were guided down under the deck by two PennDOT workers. Others worked to stretch 2,000 feet of hose from the Liberty Tunnels to the middle of the bridge.
“When the chief looked over, and looked down, and he saw me, he cracked a big smile ‘cause he knew this was going to be a little easier than he thought,” said Lt. Grenesko.
The fire was out in a half hour.
But, Deputy Chief Large says, “That’s when the damaged compression chord for the truss was discovered.”
“The beam, it looked like an ‘S,’” said firefighter Richard Miles. “One of the PennDOT guys came down and he said, ‘This is bad.’”
“There was one gentleman who had on a very nice, pressed, button-down shirt, so I knew that he was probably kind of important,” said Lt. Grenesko. “And, he told me, ‘Call your chief and tell him to get all your rigs off this bridge as quickly and as gently as possible.’”
Officials said over the weekend, the bridge was minutes from collapse.
“I really want to praise them today to say they did a really good job. The job was well done,” said Battalion Chief Robert Ciesielski, of the Pittsburgh Fire Bureau.
“I don’t go to the idea of being heroes,” said Deputy Chief Large. “The guys were doing their jobs, and they were doing their jobs very well.”