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Thu February 02, 2023 - Southeast Edition #3
People never seem to tire of the thrill of witnessing the controlled demolition of industrial sites or buildings. That is particularly true of tall structures imploded into their own narrow footprint by a combination of expertly placed explosive charges and the forces of gravity.
There is something mesmerizing about hearing a series of explosions, followed seconds later by an old building or tall smokestack tumbling onto a pre-designated spot on the ground.
Whenever it occurs across the United States, these types of demolitions draw large crowds or, increasingly, are recorded digitally for distribution across the internet.
Scores of companies around the world do this intricate type of work, but few are as accomplished as Tonawanda, N.Y.-based Total Wrecking & Environmental. Located near Buffalo, Total Wrecking has parlayed its years of experience in the field of industrial demolition to the point that it is regarded as one of the nation's certified experts in the art and science of razing massive structures.
And massive is certainly the correct adjective to describe many of the company's projects.
In recent years, Total Wrecking has demolished everything from the old New York State Fairgrounds, including the grandstand and 11 large buildings, to the Jacksonville, Fla., Electric Authority's two colossal cooling towers that had produced 1,634 megawatts of power.
The company's latest project also is in Florida, across the state in Lakeland, where on Jan. 14 it carried out a spectacular demolition of part of the coal- and natural gas-fueled McIntosh Power Plant. The company brought down the facility's 260-ft.-high stack and an adjacent 90-ft. selective catalytic reduction (SCR) unit at the working facility.
Total Wrecking's efforts over the one-and-a-half- to two-year project are centered around the safe and comprehensive abatement, remediation, decommissioning and demolition of three huge units that have been in operation at the McIntosh facility for more than 40 years.
January's implosions came after the Buffalo company first began work in Lakeland last May to remove materials from the site and prepare it for the demolition.
After the rousing success of the most recent implosion at the power plant, Total Wrecking founder and CEO Frank Bodami expressed his elation at the results.
"I would be lying to you if I did not tell you that it went perfectly," he said about the Jan. 14 demo. "It was freezing out there, though, like we had brought the Buffalo weather with us on site. But, the plant's owner, as usual, was very happy with our results. No debris went into the nearby road, and the implosion was a people-pleaser as a good-sized crowd watched from a safe distance. Now, we have another shot planned on some more of the boilers at the plant on March 4."
Like all industrial demolition projects, the Lakeland facility has presented Total Wrecking with a series of challenges, hazards and complexities that require the skill of qualified and experienced engineers and experts.
The demolition process is time-consuming and involves a great deal of planning. It also is common for a job to last from seven months to two or three years, Bodami said, depending on the size of the project, or whether it is a working facility.
"We are working in and around McIntosh's operations and the new build of Lakeland's RICE [Reciprocating Internal Combustion Engine] units," he said. "In other cases, such as the Logan Power Plant that we imploded in New Jersey in December, the owner gave us the keys and said, ‘Have at it.' It was about half the size of the one we are working on in Lakeland and we were able to bring it down and haul it out quickly."
Bodami described a successful implosion as "a bit of an art," but the spectacular part of the work — the seven- to 11-second demolition that wows the crowds — is just the icing on the cake. The run up to the implosion, known as the critical path method schedule, is what needs to take place to move from one step to the next, and is where most of the effort lies.
"The items that were critical on this job included the clearing of the underneath areas of the boiler to create a 30-foot by 44-foot airspace so that we could shoot the columns and drop the structure with linear shaped charges," he explained. "That will cut the beams like a hot knife through butter."
To carry out the prep work, a few months prior to the implosion, Total Wrecking's crews use excavators with shears and grapples attached to them, along with welders with propane torches on manlifts, to make the cuts in the beams so that its demolition engineers can set the charges. In addition, the company erects chain length fencing and has geotextile fabric and wood boxes for covering to make certain no debris from the blast falls outside of the shot zone, Bodami continued.
Afterwards comes the arduous process of preparing the blast's broken and mangled materials, including reducing them into small pieces, usually 5-ft.-by-2-ft. sections, Bodami noted, and using big magnet cranes to load them onto containers to haul them to a local steel mill to be turned into either rebar for a new building or materials to fabricate new cars.
"As far as taking down power plants, and handling other utility projects, [Total Wrecking] is a well-oiled machine now, and those jobs make up most of our business," he said. "We perform some commercial jobs, like a large 26-story structure next to a two-story building in a downtown area or something similar, but we primarily do a lot of power plants all over the country. Our success is due to our people because we have talented folks working here."
The company's team in Florida consists of about 30 employees, and, counting his four managers and subcontractors, there are a total of 50 people working at the site. Additionally, many of their families live in housing paid for by Total Wrecking.
"We also hire local people too and train them on how to perform these jobs, but our core group of folks are from Buffalo," said Bodami.
Interestingly, the owners of Lakeland's McIntosh Power Plant are not paying Total Wrecking to demolish the old facility and clear out the materials; rather, it is the other way around: Bodami's firm is paying McIntosh for the right to perform the work so that it can obtain the plant's old materials, many of which are valuable, to sell to recyclers.
"It is not always the case for us to do that," he explained. "This site had some expensive items that we were able to repurpose and recapture. For folks in our industry, before it was posh to recycle, we did it as a matter of getting higher profits. Here, we did the same thing, and found a couple large assets on the project to turn this thing around and bring some money back into the company."
He added the Lakeland power plant's debris had a lot of ferrous materials at the site, such as steel and iron, which Bodami said is common on such projects, but there were many non-ferrous materials — aluminum, copper, lead and zinc — as well.
"The market for ferrous material saw a drop in value during the last eight months of 2022, if I am not mistaken, but it is still strong," according to Bodami. "But the non-ferrous materials are what we really must look for, and we were able to get a good feel for what we had in Lakeland, along with the major assets, so that we can repurpose the site. That is what put it over the top for us down there."
Besides making the site ready for demolition and removing a lot of reusable materials, Bodami noted that his crews have also spent the last several months taking out hazardous stuff within the power plant.
"We did some asbestos abatement, removed universal waste and recaptured oil. Coal ash was not a part of our work on the site, but we took care of the cooling towers, which were predominately C&D-type materials that, unfortunately, had to go to the landfill. However, I think we will recycle close to 98 percent of the waste at the plant."
A variety of different equipment and tools are used by Total Wrecking to carry out its specialized work, which Bodami buys from trusted dealers in upstate New York.
Among them are Atlas-Copco and SENNEBOGEN material handlers; excavators made by Komatsu, ranging from the PC350 model to the PC1250 machine; and Kobelco 350 and 500 model backhoes. He explained that those and other machines and attachments, including Genesis shears, are loaded onto trailers, and moved from Total Wrecking's Buffalo yard to projects across the country.
"We work with several different equipment dealers to get what we need, but primarily with Anderson Equipment Co. here in Tonawanda, N.Y., and Tracey Road Equipment in Syracuse," he added. "They have been good partners for us."
Bodami has worked in the demolition business for 42 years, starting off by helping his grandfather and father in their company.
After decades of learning independently, studying hard, training tirelessly, he and a partner, along with Frank's wife and financial controller Sandy, founded Titan Wrecking & Environmental in 1998, where they enjoyed a fast rise through the demolition ranks.
But, he said, his business partner "wanted to do little projects, and I wanted to go big," which led to Frank and Sandy to begin their own venture with a focus on safety prioritization and innovation, family values, and large-scale industrial demolition. The result was the beginning of Total Wrecking & Environmental in 2013.
The couple and their managers already had a deep-rooted respect for family and integrity (their son and daughter also work for Total Wrecking), so their first tasks were to develop new practices, procedures and ways of using equipment to make dangerous work as safe as possible. Once they set themselves apart as leaders in safety and integrity, the company's nationwide expansion followed.
In fact, the next implosion at the Lakeland Power Plant in March will include an element of Total Wrecking's commitment to the community, specifically its support of the Wounded Warrior Project (WWP), the American veterans service organization.
"We believe in our military, and we want to help support them after the conflicts they have survived," Bodami said. "To benefit Wounded Warriors, in March we are going to auction off the chance to push the button on the next implosion at the Lakeland plant. After all, who would not want the chance to push the button on an implosion, right? I tell everyone that it is something you want to put on your bucket list."
To learn more about the many services Total Wrecking & Environmental offers to its customers across the United States, and a look inside its practices, visit its comprehensive website at totalwrecking.com. CEG
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