HELENA, Mont. — Friends and family had gathered to celebrate the life of a Montana firefighter when the deck below their feet suddenly gave way, and they became the victims of the type of disaster to which he spent three decades responding.
Nobody died in Saturday’s collapse at a lodge on the shore of Flathead Lake, and many of the approximately 50 people who were injured suffered only bruises and scrapes.
But some had to be rushed to surgery for orthopedic and neurological injuries. That was a challenge for the rural area about 50 miles south of Glacier National Park. Helicopters were flown in, and ambulances transported the injured to four hospitals scattered around the region.
There was no immediate word on what caused the collapse of the second-story deck at Glacier Camp, a lodge, camp and retreat center owned by the Presbyterian church.
“An investigation into the accident has already begun,” Marsha Anson, the general presbyter for the church, said in a statement.
The church’s insurer will try to determine the cause of the deck’s failure, she said. Lake County Sheriff Don Bell told the Missoulian newspaper that his department would not investigate because there was no crime.
The crowd had gathered for the memorial service of William Nickel, who worked for two fire departments in the Flathead Valley before he died of a heart condition in April. The location of the service was in the bucolic setting of the largest freshwater lake in the West with the Mission Mountains as the backdrop.
The service had ended, and people had gathered on the lodge’s deck overlooking the lake when it gave way. It was unclear how many people were standing on it when it fell.
Twenty-seven of the people who were injured were taken to Kalispell Regional Medical Center. Only nine remained there as of Monday, spokeswoman Mellody Sharpton said.
Those nine are all listed in good condition, including two who were admitted with critical injuries, she said.
It was not immediately clear how many people taken to other places were still hospitalized.
The lodge was completed in 2004 after receiving a zoning permit from Lake County and a building permit from the state of Montana.
Montana follows International Building Code standards, said Dave Cook, the deputy administrator for the state’s Business Standards Division. For decks, the occupant load is one person for every 5 square feet of area.
In addition, newly constructed decks must be built to withstand 100 pounds per square foot, he said.
Inspection records from the time the permit was issued for the lodge are no longer on file, but the building had to meet the standards when the permit was issued, Cook said. There are no follow-up inspections.
“We look at them when they’re brand new, and if they pass the state standard, we’re good with it,” he said.
The Lake County permit does not include any information on the deck. County officials only check whether a structure being built conforms to how the land is supposed to be used, such as the lot size, setbacks and building heights, said Jacob Feistner, the county’s planning director.
A contractor has inspected Glacier Camp’s other structures to make sure they’re safe, Anson said.
“We continue to pray for those injured in Saturday’s accident and for their families and the medical teams caring for them,” she said.