19 Crane Operators Compete for Title of Champion at CONEXPO-CON/AGG

The crane operators competing in the MCM and CIC Crane Operator Skills Championship in Las Vegas next week include relative newcomers to the field as well as veterans with 35+ years of experience. They all possess incredible load control, precision, and efficiency as operators. And they share one other thing in common. They all agree that one of the best things about being a crane operator is that the job is different every day. New equipment and technology. New customers and job locations. New challenges.

In all, 19 operators will compete March 6-7 during CONEXPO-CON/AGG, the triennial mega construction equipment trade show. Sixteen operators pre-qualified at regional events held during 2013. Two more will be selected during open competition in Las Vegas on March 4-5. And Jesse Pettit, returning 2012 Champion, will be on hand to defend his title.

The Crane Operator Skills Championship, Booth G-2975 near the Riviera Hotel in the Gold Lot, is a partnership between Crane Institute Certification (CIC) and MCM Group, publisher of Crane & Rigging Hot Line magazine. Other sponsors supporting the event are Liebherr, Houston International Insurance Group, Slingmax, The Crosby Group, Hirschmann, DICA Outrigger Pads, and InfoChip.

"Each of the operators competing in the Championship reached this level of professionalism through training, ongoing qualification by their employers, and certification," said Debbie Dickinson, Executive Director of CIC. "Accredited, third-party certification by type and capacity of crane provides employers with verification of an operator's skill level. It is the most reliable and valid means of qualifying workers, and it offers employers an affordable method for documenting its risk management practices."

OSHA is currently considering a delay to the requirement for operators to be certified. However, CIC encourages employers to move forward with getting operators certified. "General contractors aren't waiting. They recognize the merits of certification and often make it mandatory as part of the bidding process. In addition, many states legislate crane operator certification. It's good for business in terms of improving productivity, being competitive in the market, and increasing safety," said Dickinson.

CIC invites crane operators, lift directors, safety managers and others working with cranes to visit Booth G-2975 during the show. "Come cheer on these talented operators and learn more about how crane operator, rigger, and signalperson certifications from CIC can benefit your safety and health programs," said Dickinson.

Passing on the skill

Not all of the finalists currently operate cranes on a daily basis, a testament to their experience and skill level. Both James "Woody" Woodrum and Stever Frein share their knowledge by training others to become crane operators. Woodrum operated cranes for 35 years before joining Laguna Crane Services, Aransas Pass, Texas, as a trainer three years ago. Frein operated cranes daily for more than 20 years, but also managed a crane rental company for a decade. He currently is a crane instructor and practical examiner for West Coast Training, Woodland, Wash.

Although only Woodrum and Frein are in official training roles, coaching less experienced operators comes with the territory. "I knew when I first started operating cranes 28 years ago that I had found my calling," said Peter Delmonte, an operator for Kerr Crane, Timmins, Ontario. "Teaching and mentoring apprentices with the same dedication to our trade has been my greatest satisfaction."

Delmonte apprenticed with the Operating Engineers Training Institute of Ontario (OETIO) under his father in the 1980s. He later went on to own a construction company, which he sold in 2013 in order to spend more time with his family. "My passion for the trade could not be stifled for long. After a short hiatus, I began operating with Kerr Crane, Timmins Ontario."

Kenneth Bowyer of All Crane Rental of Florida, Apopka, Fla., believes most crane operators have a high level of professionalism. "I enjoy training our younger generation of crane operators in the safe and proper operation of various types of equipment," he said.

Sense of accomplishment

The equipment itself is a big draw for many in the profession. Becoming accomplished operators of different types of cranes, configured in a variety of ways keeps the job challenging. Many of the finalists work for crane rental companies, where they are exposed to the newest models and most diverse fleets of cranes.

For the Championship, the operators will compete on a 265-ton Liebherr LTM 1220-5.2. The five-axle all-terrain crane's 197-foot main telescopic boom will be retracted to about 100 feet for the competition. The crane can also be configured with a 40- to 72-ft. long folding fly-jib system, the LTM 1220-5.2 sets the standard when it comes to lifting height and boom length.

The cab has sound and heat-absorbing internal paneling, tinted windows, front knock-out windows, and a space-saving sliding door. The seat provides pneumatic lumbar support and a headrest. Controls are integrated into the armrest and are vertically and horizontally adjustable.

When the cab is your office, comfort is important. Jose Villanueva of Bay/CC Crane & Rigging, Corpus Christi, Texas, says one downside to being a crane operator is dealing with the weather. "Here in South Texas, one minute it's hot and then a cold front moves in. You have to be read for anything," he said.

"It's a never-ending learning process with cranes," said Mike Barker, who has worked for LyondellBasell, the plastics, chemical, and refining company in Houston for 17 years. He serves as a crane and rigging subject matter expert for the company and works as a project coordinator for cranes in addition to operating. He has 37 years of experience as an operator.

"There's a great sense of accomplishment that comes with making a difficult lift and seeing the end result," said Frein. Dave Sandel, owner of New York-based Sandel Cranes, whose company's theme is 'Years of experience plus the right equipment means a job well done,' concludes: "There's no better job without having an education."

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