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Steeplejack Plummets to Death

Source: Union-News (Springfield, MA)

Author: FRED CONTRADA

WILLIAMSBURG, MA –  Bruce Niemitz and a co-worker were planning to install just one sheet of metal on the steeple of the First Congregational Church yesterday morning before calling it a day. Before they could finish putting the piece of sheet metal in place, Niemitz slipped and fell 80 feet to his death.

Niemitz, 45, of 22 Warren Road in Brimfield, was pronounced dead of massive trauma at Cooley Dickinson Hospital yesterday. An effort to summon a helicopter from Worcester Medical Center to take Niemitz to Baystate Medical Center had to be canceled because of the weather.

According to Williamsburg Police Chief Patrick T. Archbald, Niemitz and co-worker Kevin Leecock wanted to get some work done on the church steeple after being hampered all week by rain. Both were employed by F.W. Allard Co. of Wales, which specializes in church steeples. They were at the very top of the 40-foot-high steeple working on the cupola when the accident happened, Archbald said.

“Both men were on the same plank about six feet apart working on the same piece of metal,” Archbald said.

As Archbald recounted it, it began to drizzle as the men were installing the piece. Although Niemitz was wearing a harness, it was not fastened to the safety rope.

“For some reason, he took a step back and lost his balance,” Archbald said.

Niemitz fell against a two-by-four, which immediately gave way, Archbald said. He then fell 40 feet, hit the roof of the church, and feel another 40 feet to the sidewalk on North Main Street.

David E. West, one of the church’s directors, was nearby at the Anne T. Dunphy School when he noticed the commotion and went over to help. Police and firefighters had already arrived on the scene, West said, and acting Fire Chief Donald Lawton attempted to resuscitate Niemitz. When it was determined that the helicopters were unable to make the flight, Niemitz was taken to Cooley Dickinson Hospital by Goshen Ambulance.

According to West, the workers were overhauling the entire steeple of the 1836 church. He said company owner Francis W. Allard, who was at the scene, told him Niemitz was in the act of hooking the safety rope to his belt when he slipped. Leecock, a 20-year friend of Niemitz, reportedly was badly shaken by the accident.

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