A Crane Operator's View of Extreme Makeover Home Edition

Vic Lamanno has been a crane operator on two different Extreme Makeover Home Edition sites in Kansas City: first in April 2005 and again last week. Lamanno, who has worked as a crane operator since April 1976, has been at Midwest Crane in Kansas City since July 1998. He has seen his share of work sites and jobs, but the Extreme homes offered a few unique challenges.

At the house last week in northern Kansas City, Lamanno used a National 1800 40-ton truck-mounted crane for a variety of lifting tasks, included picking up bundles of inner and outer walls, setting beams across the basement, and setting floor joists. The lifts themselves were similar to those on other house construction jobs, but on the Extreme site, everything is, well, extreme • less time, more people, TV crews, hype and excitement. Plus professionals, like Lamanno, are often working with volunteers.

As many crane operators will attest, one of the biggest causes of stress on the job is dealing with customers who are unfamiliar with crane operation, don't use proper signals, and don't know how to rig the load. That challenge is compounded by the nature of building an Extreme home.

Kevin Green, owner of Kevin Green Homes, the contractor that managed both Extreme work sites in Kansas City, said his crew makes safety a priority. Safety is stressed in pre-construction meetings, and he makes sure all his lead workers know how to help inexperienced volunteers work safely. He added that the cast and crew from ABC also made safety a priority when discussing the project with Green and other local construction workers.

“There's a lot more superintending and supervision on this site than on normal work sites, so we catch a lot of things before they happen,” explains Green. “It's tough to manage,” Green admits, but “we're just all very alert.”

“I won't operate without a signal,” Lamanno said, which is a policy many operators live by. As a result, many simple tasks seemed to take forever to complete because workers were unfamiliar with signaling and would forget to tell Lamanno where to go with the load.

On last week's Extreme home job, Lamanno set the crane in a neighbor's yard because digging was going on to run lines in the front yard and rocks had been dumped in the back yard. Signaling was extremely necessary, as Lamanno was working in the blind once the inner and outer walls were set up. Also, the hordes of people working on the house often situated themselves between Lamanno's sightline and his helper, making it impossible for Lamanno to see any signals.

“The problem at both sites was communicating with people and trying to get it done on time,” Lamanno said, remembering that in April 2005 he ended the day with a splitting headache. He attributed that to working in the blind with people who weren't accustomed to working with cranes.

Looking back on his experiences with the television show, Lamanno does remember enjoying all the excitement. But he's also hoping that additional safety measures will be taken on future Extreme builds, especially in dealing with cranes. Lamanno suggests using walkie-talkies for crane operators and their helpers, or at least making sure that people do not get in the operator's sightline and block signals.

Go here for Lift and Access's story about the family for whom Green and Lamanno built this extreme house. Jesus Jacobo, the homeowner, is a crane installer for Custom Truck and Equipment, Kansas City.