Comanche County Courthouse installs new chiller, spotlights crane safety

Lawton_The Comanche County Courthouse got a new air-conditioning cooling system on Wednesday, but had to close an entire block of downtown to install it.  The county had to bring in a 47-foot long crane, that weighs hundreds of tons, to get the work done, and after a fatal crane collapse in Oklahoma City last July, crane crews have been especially cautious as they raise their rigs to the sky.

A county spokesman said they got the old chiller in 1998, and it was time for a new one.  They wanted it to be installed before summer weather hits, but it isn't as simple as unplugging one unit, and plugging in a new one.  The new chiller weighs 4,400 pounds, and the challenge was to get it on top of the five-story courthouse.

First, workers had to remove the old 8,000-pound unit - with people inside and around the building.  A safety inspector was on site at all times for each lift, or "pick".  "At any time, anything can happen," said Crane Safety Director Randy Yount.  "It is, after all, machinery.  It can break, some other kind of an emergency could come up in the middle of a pick.  So, you never know what is going to happen, so you make every possible precaution that you can to engineer the dangers out."

Yount took photographs throughout the pick to prove that they followed proper protocol.  "I take the pictures, and use them in training," he said.  "And, I take the pictures in case there is any kind of problem, so we can document what happened."  He says he doesn't bring his camera to every pick, but Wednesday's was interesting, and a different sort of challenge than usual.  "We're reaching a long way," he said.  "We're not picking up a lot of weight, but because of the reach, that comes into a situation where you want to make sure that all your counterbalances are in, counterweights are in, and all the rigging is good, and all the workers are safe."

This operation needed the arm to extend its entire 198 feet.  Each crane has a set of tables that tells the operator how much counter-balance he or she needs, depending on what they are lifting, and where.  Yount says he is extra-cautious.  "We overkill on everything as far as the amount that's safe," he said.  "So, if half is good, we double or triple that."

The chiller installation ended safety, and a separate team hooked up the old piping for the new unit.  A front loader crushed the old chiller and filled an entire dumpster.  The new chillier unit joins a rather new boiler at the Comanche County Courthouse that was installed in October, 2005.