Building Trades

Meet the WTC’s ‘Man of Steel’

February 19, 2013
Marc Bussanich 

The typical office tower in New York City contains about 3,000 tons of reinforcing bars to guarantee the necessary resistance to the elements. But One World Trade Center consists of a reinforced concrete base made up of over 34,000 tons of rebar and 200,000 cubic yards of concrete, which makes it virtually impregnable to a terrorist attack. Read More and Watch Video

George Collins was a general foreman at One WTC for over five years. A member of the Metallic Lathers and Reinforcing Ironworkers Local 46 for almost 30 years, Collins said that the tower’s incredible reinforcement would guarantee the safety for the office workers who will occupy the floors and visiting tourists when the tower is complete.

“The tower’s security features include three-foot thick reinforced concrete walls for the extra-wide, pressurized stairwells. God forbid something should happen, people will be able to get out safely,” said Collins.

Collins is a third-generation metallic lather who started out as an apprentice, worked his way up to deputy foreman on several projects before becoming a head foreman. He was working on a building being constructed for some of Bank of America’s financial operations when he received a call from the local’s business agent to head the local’s work at One WTC.

“I knew it would be a big endeavor, but I didn’t realize how big,” he said.

The responsibilities of a head foreman are many, but they’re magnified when directing a crew of over 200 men on a 105-story building being erected on a site considered hallow ground.

Metallic lathers are responsible for bending rebar, or reinforcing steel, and then tying the bars using tie wire and wire mesh to be embedded inside cast concrete to increase the concrete’s tensile strength.

Collins was responsible for ordering the rebar and the accompanying accessories from a manufacturer in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Every morning two-flatbed trucks would arrive at the construction site with the rebar to be hauled up to the floor being built.

But his biggest and more stressful responsibilities were overseeing 200 metallic lathers and making sure they carried out their work assignments according to the blueprints given to him by project managers who typically would change details as the work progressed.

Collins had to be at work regularly at 5:30 am to make sure that the day’s work assignments were ready to be distributed to the crews when they showed up at 7:00 am.  

“I’d receive e-mails overnight from project managers, so I had to be there early to make the necessary modifications based on the project managers’ revised work details because I couldn’t have my men standing around waiting for me to give them direction.”

There were heightened periods of stress when the WTC’s owner, the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, issued accelerated completion schedules, for example, to “top out” three of the seven proposed towers in time for the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

“There were periods during the construction where my guys were working 12 hour days during the week, 10 hours on Saturdays and eight hours on Sundays. When I first looked at the deadline schedules provided by the project managers, I didn’t think it was possible. But somehow, someway we found a way to get it done,” said Collins.

To build the three towers to their maximum structural height, Collins and his men were tasked to complete one floor per week.

“It took us a little over two years to complete 105 floors, which shows the integrity of the men and the efficiency of union labor. That’s not to say there weren’t problems and challenges along the way, but we overcame them,” Collins said.  

As head foreman, it could have been easy for Collins just to give the blueprints to his men to figure out where and how to install the rebar, but he would be regularly alongside his men as they built skyward to the 105th floor.

“When I started out in this business, I worked on some jobs where the foreman would only come out of the office to throw his weight around. But I prided myself on being with my men in hot or cold weather. I wasn’t a shadow foreman.”

During his time at the World Trade Center, it wasn’t unusual for Collins to work weeks at a time without a day off. He expressed pride for the work he and his men completed on schedule sometimes under difficult conditions, but the grueling schedules did exact a toll. He expressed regret that he lost valuable time with his family. 

“I did well, financially, as a head foreman at the World Trade Center, but there were some nights I didn’t go home. I earned my pay, but I also missed my kids growing up,” Collins said.

Collins finished his assignment at One World Trade Center earlier this year and will soon start work as a head foreman on a 50-story building in Manhattan.

Working alongside Collins was deputy foreman, Thomas Ward, who explains in the accompanying video the precarious nature of physically carrying multiple five-foot rebar 1,000 feet in the air. 

 

February 19, 2013

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