A collapsed canopy at a Sunoco gas station in Cicero, New York, was most likely the result of column corrosion, according to a local news report from CNY Central. The corrosion had not been immediately noticeable because of where it was located on the column, based on reports by officials on the scene. Fortunately, no one was injured during the incident.
My car was flat
The canopy came down suddenly on the afternoon of December 4, 2019. The gas station's owner had just come by the building to collect the mail and was several feet away from the canopy when it came down. He had been underneath the canopy only minutes before it collapsed. Another man, Bill Coersmeyers, was sitting in his car when the canopy fell. Coersmeyers was sitting in his car, about to fill up his tank with gas, when he heard a loud crashing sound.
"I heard a big old crunch and looked and the awning was on top of my vehicle. The fire suppression system had gone off – there was smoke or haze from that – I wasn't sure if it was smoke from a fire or not, so I got out of the vehicle as quickly as I could and saw that my car was flat," said Coersmeyers, speaking with CNY Central.
Coersmeyers' car and a nearby truck were the only cars underneath the canopy at the time and both were heavily damaged. A crane was called to retrieve the vehicles from underneath the wreckage.
Initially, the gas station's managers thought that the collapse was caused by accumulated snowfall, as about four to five inches of snow sat on top of the canopy. However, Joel Plumley, an area engineer with experience working on similar structures, thought otherwise.
"There are about 4 to 5 inches of ice and snow which the columns should be able to support," said Plumley, speaking with CNY Central.
Instead, Plumley suspected that corrosion may have been the major factor causing an issue, with the snow merely exasperating things.
"More often than not it's a problem with corrosion of the canopy columns that the canopy supports. In fact, this is what I'm seeing here, the base of these columns that supported the canopy, rusted considerably."
The corrosion was confirmed by a town Code Enforcement Officer, who noted that the damage was not immediately visible.
Out of Sight, Out of Mind
Corrosion and rust can be huge problems for owners of properties with columns that are exposed to the elements, like the Cicero gas station. In many cases, it's an issue that isn't caught until it's too late. Because corrosion happens so gradually, it's often hard to pinpoint when a structure becomes a potential risk.
According to Plumley, regular inspections are the best safeguard against corrosion. Plumley recommended to CNY Central that property owners consistently search for rust and corrosion, in addition to having a professional perform an inspection either annually or every two years. The Sunoco was legally required to have an inspection by a city official every three years and had previously had a professional inspection in August, 2018, well within that time. Plumley noted that in many cases the legal minimum may not be sufficient.
"More often than not it's a problem with corrosion of the canopy columns that the canopy supports."
"Some of these companies have inspection programs when they're looked at on a periodic basis. But for the most part they're out of sight, out of mind," said Plumley.
Although the best option, regular inspections, in some cases, may not catch potential problems.
Steve Procopio, the Director of Code Enforcement at the sight of the accident, noted that in most cases an inspector would be unlikely to notice column corrosion. Most inspectors, he said, typically look for "common or obvious" issues. Plumley, meanwhile, noted that the columns were corroded in a way that "you really couldn't see or foresee it."
While rare, this is far from the first time a gas station canopy has collapsed. Plumley said that he has seen three other, similar cases in his time working as an engineer. Gas station canopies in Alsip, Illinois and Monroeville, Pennsylvania collapsed earlier this year. Like the recent collapse in Cicero, no one was harmed in either of those incidents.