Hydraulic Lifts

Notre Dame announced this morning that no longer would it use extending hydraulic lifts to film football practices.

Instead, the university is installing four remote-controlled cameras mounted on 50-foot poles at its practice fields, in addition to two permanent structures already on the sidelines.

The move comes in the wake of the October 2010 death of Declan Sullivan, a junior student from the Chicago area who was killed when the scissor lift he was filming football practice from toppled over in 50-plus mph wind gusts.

Indiana OHSA continues to investigate Sullivan’s death, as does the University, which has signed on an independent consultant.

It’s believed that Notre Dame is the first university in the land to go with these camera devices; they’re expected to be operational by the start of Spring football practice.

While I’m so glad to see something positive come from this tragic incident, I have just one question:

Why, oh why, does it take a death before people realize that something’s inherently dangerous?

I mean, anybody could take one look at a hydraulic lift and see it’s not safe.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that 26 construction workers, many of them painters, die each year in aerial lift accidents. Of that number, one-fourth are from scissor lifts.

Not a huge number, unless it’s your loved one who’s killed.

And we’ve got kids operating these things?

Think about it.

R.I.P., Declan

Shock, sadness, and anger are in the forefront today as word spreads about the death of a 20-year-old student at the University of Notre Dame.

Declan Sullivan, a junior film and marketing major from Long Grove, IL, was killed when the hydraulic scissor lift he was videotaping football practice from on Wednesday toppled over in 50-plus mph wind gusts.

This happened just before 5 p.m. EST. The young man was taken almost immediately to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

I didn’t know Declan; however, as the mom of one of his fellow students, I’m reeling from the news.

How could something like this happen? Where were the adults who were supposed to be in charge? Why was this student up on a portable tower 50 feet off the ground with sustained winds at 40 mph (when manufacturers of such an apparatus acknowledge they shouldn’t be used in winds over 30 mph)?

According to news reports, this kind of tower is used by all the major college football programs, as well as the NFL. At Notre Dame, I understand, one typically sits in each of the goal-line areas, in addition to permanent towers situated along the 50-yard line. Perhaps it’s time for a new, safer way to get a bird’s-eye view of practice?

Now everybody knows that, the higher up you go, the stronger the winds. And this was a wicked day, not fit for man or beast. In fact, earlier in the day, students were sent to basements and other safe places when tornado warning sirens blared out.

Football practice the evening before was moved indoors because of inclement weather. Shouldn’t it have been inside on Wednesday, too?

I can’t help shuddering when I think of the horrors this young man endured just doing his job that day. Reports indicate he posted online his trepidation at being on the tower in 60 mph wind gusts and called it “terrifying.”

Why did he stay up there??

A spokesman for the University told a news conference today that pep rallies and such have been canceled this week, but the game on Saturday versus Tulsa will go on in Declan’s memory.

I wouldn’t be so presumptuous as to say what Declan would, or wouldn’t, have wanted. But I suspect it will be a subdued atmosphere, and winning (or losing) will have little to do with it.

Notre Dame officials assure us a full investigation will be conducted. That’s as it should be.

But the fact remains that this young man died way before his time. His grieving family, friends, and colleagues will need to band together, taking comfort from their faith and one another.

I’m sure there’s plenty of blame to go around on this one, but “blame” won’t bring Declan back.

Such a senseless tragedy.