HARTLAND — An indescribable rumble shook a quiet Friday afternoon at the Hartland Consolidated School as newly erected roof rafters on a partially constructed gymnasium suddenly “dominoed” and collapsed.
One worker was killed, and three others were injured.
Michael Gosselin, 42, of Augusta, working on the floor below the rafters, is believed to have been killed instantly when he was struck by the falling timbers, according to Somerset County Sheriff’s Deputy Pierre Boucher.
“They were setting trusses and beginning to brace them when something let go,” Boucher said.
Gosselin was rushed to Sebasticook Valley Hospital in Pittsfield, possibly with head injuries. Investigators were not certain of his death until later in the afternoon, Boucher said.
Gosselin’s brother, Peter Gosselin, 41, also of Augusta, suffered an ankle injury in the incident. He was treated at SVH and released from the hospital, Boucher said.
Both men worked for Central Maine Drywall of Manchester, subcontractors on the construction project at the Hartland school. The company could not be reached late Friday for additional information on its employees or the accident.
A third person, Richard Hill, 39, residence unknown, was pulled from the site disheveled and unsteady, bloody cuts to his arm and head. Guided by Boucher to a stretcher, he refused help and tried to wander among co-workers to determine what was happening around him.
After an emotional co-worker confronted him and insisted that he go to the hospital, Hill allowed himself to be led to the waiting ambulance. Hill also was treated at SVH and released.
It was unclear for which contractor Hill worked, Boucher said.
The accident remains under investigation, the deputy said. Officials from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration were continuing the investigation, and the Maine Attorney General’s Office was advised as required because of the fatality, he added.
A fourth worker suffered a cut to the cheek in the accident. Walking around the site as emergency personnel attended to others and investigators began to unravel the afternoon event, he appeared agitated and confused.
The man refused to be identified or interviewed, but said, “All I know is I don’t know what happened.”
Workers were straightening the trusses, prefabricated wooden rafters, according to project manager Richard Patterson, when the accident happened about 1 p.m. There were seven workers in the building.
Patterson works for E.W. Littlefield Inc. of Hartland, general contractor on the $1.4 million addition to the Hartland school. Visibly distraught, the project manager was unable to discuss the accident with reporters at the scene.
Elwin Littlefield, company owner, declined to discuss the incident with reporters, but remained on site while the investigation continued.
Another subcontractor on the project, Rick Lupo of Lupo Construction of Corinna, remained at the scene, surrounded by co-workers at a construction trailer and also was unavailable for comment.
Hartland Fire Chief Lester Goforth, one of the first emergency responders on the scene, served as spokesman until Somerset County sheriff’s deputies and Maine State Police secured the scene for further investigation.
“About two-thirds of the trusses were up,” Goforth said. “They looked pretty well braced.
“Trusses can get to shaking sometimes,” the fire chief, who also is a contractor, explained. “When they do, the nails can let go, and they domino.”
When the trusses collapsed, hundreds of pounds of timbers came crashing down, trapping injured workers in the rubble. Firefighters used circular saws and chain saws to remove the debris and pull the workers to safety, Goforth said.
The emergency call for ambulances and firefighters brought the small, rural community to a standstill. Firetrucks, ambulances and police cruisers were followed to the Elm Street site by a stream of pickup trucks with firefighters, emergency personnel and area contractors eager to help.
The emergency page broadcast across the county emergency system caused many people to believe the roof might have collapsed on the existing school. Deputies and off-duty emergency personnel were prompted to call the dispatch center to determine if the call was a drill or if children might be trapped or injured.
The children were unaware of the tragedy, according to SAD 48 Superintendent William Braun, who arrived on the scene soon after the initial call. He said the children were confined to their classrooms and told there had been an accident.
Although E.W. Littlefield is a Hartland contractor, school personnel were aware that none of the injured workers is a local resident or believed to be connected in any way to the children at the school.
Community members and town officials arriving at the hot and dusty accident scene stood around in disbelief, awaiting word on the condition of the injured workers. Yellow police tape quickly surrounded the braced walls of the new gymnasium after three ambulances left the scene.
The $1.4 million addition to the Hartland school is a collaborative and innovative effort of the community, local industry, the school district and a social service agency to add much-needed space to the 1950s-era building.
The project began more than a year ago when Hartland’s Irving Tanning Co. offered a $100,000 challenge grant to create a community center and day care facility. Local fund raising, a $250,000 Community Development Block Grant and a $950,000 bond issue by the local school district completed the funding.
The structure was designed to mirror a similar addition at the Corinna Elementary School done two years ago. The additions include a gymnasium, a media center-computer room and classrooms. The Hartland project is intended to serve as a community center with an independent governing board after school hours.
With the early spring, the project was well ahead of schedule, Braun said. The building was expected to be completed for a September opening.
Acknowledging the tragic accident was a setback, he didn’t believe it would seriously delay the construction.
“It’s hard to believe with so many good things happening here that something so bad could come of it,” Braun said, referring to the community support that has gone into the school construction.
The accident was first problem the construction project had encountered, he said.