Within the next month, the city’s two building inspectors plan to review all of the buildings at Saratoga Race Course to make sure there are no structural issues.
After a barn collapsed as workers were hoisting its roof on jacks Thursday morning, the assistant fire chief wants to make sure the buildings are safe before there’s too much activity at the Oklahoma Training Track and the main track.
Assistant Chief John Betor said he doesn’t think structural issues were to blame for the collapse, but he wants to be sure.
“My focus is eliminating the structure itself as the proximate cause,” Betor said.
Betor noted that building collapses can have one of three causes: Either there were structural problems to begin with, the procedures put in place to move the roof weren’t adequate or the procedures were adequate but weren’t followed.
The city fire department normally inspects the barns every two years and public buildings such as the grandstand and clubhouse every year, Betor said. Those inspections focus on exits, fire alarms, sprinkler systems, electrical connections and storage of combustible materials.
At the barns, they also look for damage from “cribbing” — when bored horses chew through wooden walls and stall doors.
Zeroing in on structural deficiencies isn’t usually part of the inspections unless there’s a glaring problem, Betor said.
“Generally, we don’t go up in attics and look at rafters,” Betor said.
But the new slate of inspections will delve more deeply into the buildings’ stability, which Betor said is also a part of the fire code because it relates to public safety.
Betor aims to meet with both of his inspectors soon to develop an inspection plan. Figuring out how to evaluate the buildings won’t be straightforward, since they were erected before current building codes existed, Betor said.
“We need to have a pretty solid basis for looking at this so we don’t pose any undue burden on the organization,” he said.
The city has ceded jurisdiction over buildings at the racetrack to the state in the past but still does fire inspections.
On Thursday, one carpenter renovating the barn at Horse Haven near the Oklahoma Training Track broke his arm and was transported by helicopter to Albany Medical Center Hospital after the roof fell; five other workers were treated for cuts and scrapes at the scene.
Officials from the New York Racing Association said the roof fell when workers were raising it to its new height to put new walls in place of old ones as part of an ongoing barn renovation plan at the track. They said the workers were using eight roof jacks per stall rather than the minimum of five.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is investigating the accident.
The 25-by-120-foot barn had 10 stalls, and NYRA plans to rebuild it using as much of the original materials as possible in the next six to eight weeks.