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Facilities' first-ever helicopter delivery a resounding success

On Sunday, November 20, UW Facilities Services used a helicopter to remove and replace HVAC equipment on the rooftop of UW Medical Center’s BB Tower.

UW Facilities Services’ decision to use a helicopter, rather than a crane, was months in the making. The project originated when the rooftop cooling unit, an integral part of the HVAC system for the BB Tower’s elevators, failed and couldn’t be repaired.  Although HVAC technicians installed a temporary rental unit in August to keep the elevators operational, it was clear that Facilities Services had an immediate challenge: to efficiently deliver and install a new rooftop cooling unit in the safest and most cost-effective way possible.

Seattle’s construction boom presented the staff’s first major hurdle: a crane large enough to deliver the new unit was booked more than six months out. And the crane operation could have blocked traffic and caused congestion in the major medical corridor for hours and even days.

That’s when forward-thinking Facilities Services staff began to explore creative options and seek bids, ultimately hiring Hi Line Helicopters, long known for their safety and service track record.

“Our FS mission statement includes adapting and innovating to preserve physical assets to deliver best services,” said Health Sciences Zone Manager Roy Wechselberger. “This helicopter lift operation is exactly what we’re talking about in our mission statement—adapting and innovating to serve our campus.”

Helicopter delivery

The logistics necessary to pull off the massive operation included daily staff briefings (required by the Federal Aviation Administration) and evacuations of some portions of the always-busy UW Medical Center.

More than 30 UW Facilities Services maintenance personnel assisted with the operation, alongside staff from UW Medical Center, UW Police Department, and Seattle Fire Department.

“It really was a team effort to get this done,” said Health Sciences Maintenance Zone Project Manager Tim McGrath. “From everyone up on the floors to central command and everyone in-between, it’s been an impressive effort.”

Wechselberger agreed.

“A true team effort can yield huge results. Through an incredible FMC team combined effort and weighing out all possible options, we safely and successfully performed the first helicopter lift operation in our history,” said Wechselberger. “There were many challenges along the way, but in the end we learned valuable lessons which will benefit all departments involved. Facilities Maintenance & Construction can now look at this type of operation as being a viable option in the future.”

Roy Wechselberger would like to extend special thanks to:

Jon Parkin for all his support and being patient with my team throughout this process.

Tim McGrath for project managing the overall operation and providing detailed safety education to our teams.

Liz Penttila for her leadership, bringing the enormous amount of detail together and leading the command center.

Rex Corpuz for implementing the elevator machine room temporary cooling strategy, lift operation equipment planning/implementation and safety support.

And special thanks to all staff involved in the lift operation:

Shops 17 and 35 (Health Science Maintenance): Tim McGrath, Liz Penttila, Craig Steiner, Dennis Garberg, Trevor Anderson, Rex Corpuz, Daimon Ortiz, Ed Brandes, Henry Poltorak, Jerome Wrenchey, Gary Blendheim, Don Carter, Charles Uskoski, Joe Hubbell, Robbie Lawrence, Steven Lloyd, Eric Pettersen, Gayle Clute, Mark Nance, Max Cerezo, Mark Mayfield, Mansur Meshalla, Jeffery Knowles, Rafeeq Islam, Stew Fyfe, Steve Deyesso, Steve Kerby, Richard Johnson, Richard Gonzales

FS Communication: Alicia Halberg

FS Safety: Tracey Mosier

FS Stores: Gail Gokey, Mark Leider

Elevator shop 23:Dave West, John Sala

Fire Alarm shop 24: Don Stevens, Mark Berkheiser, Terry Wood,Geoff Hallett

Construction shop 58: Riley Nelson, Tom Horne, Mike Karther, Grant Folstad

We also extend our thank you to Hi Line Helicopters, the FAA, Seattle Fire Department, UW Transportation Services, and University Police Department for their support during this operation.