When the first news of the fire in the American embassy in Moscow appeared on television last summer, Carl Hansen, 68, started packing his bags and closing up his SilverSpring house.
The TV news program was still on when the call came from the State Department. And the night-long fire in the U.S. embassay was still blazing when Hansen, four Seabees and four Marines were winging over the Atlantic on the 4,800-mile flight to Moscow.
A structural enrgineer, Hansen has devoted his life to uplifting things like columns. beams, joist and trusses. As a young man, he helped design Fort Knox and the Denver Mint, has built or restored hundreds of office buildings, school, embassies ans steepled churches here, diagnosed the case of the crumbling concrete at RFK Stadium and has visited more than 25 foreign countries in the past two decades when an earthquake or other natural or unnatural disaster has sturck State Department buildings abroad.
One of Hansen's recent jobs as sexagenerian State Department troubleshooter took him ot Havana, where he checked the empty U.S. embassay building against the time American officials may return to Cuba. It is in good shape, although the metal-framed windows have corroded in the salty harbor air, he said.
Last spring, following a severe earthquake in Bucharest, he spent one and a half weeks checking for strutural damage in every U.S. embassy and chancery building in the Rumanian capital, as well as the homes of all U.S. officials.
"Every building in town has strutural damage and our people were very nervous," Hansen said. "Some buildings had cracks bug enough to stick your hand in and they wanted to know if the buildings were safe . . . especiallysince another earthquake was predicated. They were , but all I could do was look upstairs and makes a guess, an educated guess."
Then, because Hansen already was over there and they were nearby - relatively nearby - he was sent to Budapest, Stockholm. Copenhagen ans Istanbul to check out assorted buildings.
While one of the few structural engineers to make foreign house calls for the State Department, Hansen is not the only specialist called in emergencies. He is, however, one of the oldest and has been doing it longer than any of the others, a spokesman for the State Department's foreign buildings in more than 100 countries around the world . . . and frequently we need outside specialists such as Carl Hansen. He is extremely conscientious and highly responsive when we need him. Another reason we called Hansen in the Moscow fire was that he was familiar with the embassy because he'd been there before " the spokesman said. Hansen, a small, modest man who insists he doesn't "want it to appear I'm the only engineer in town or the best," quickly designed a new roof for the 10 story Moscow embassy, with building materials flown in from Finland and half a dozen other European countries. It was completed "on Sept. 21, just before the snow started flying . . . and once it starts, it snows unitl May," said Hansen.
The race with winter was won wiht the help of a 178-foot American-built crane that just happened to be on display at a Moscow trade fair. It was borrowed for a day by Hansen and the Seabees, trundled through the streets of Moscow, andused to hoist heavy building materials to the top of the embassy.
While the life of a strutural engineer frequently is filled with frantic calls following fires, earthquakes and other calamaties.Hansen and the Seabees, trundled through the streets of Moscow, and used to hoist heavy building materials to the top of the embassy.
While the life of a structural engineering frequently is filled with frantic calls following fines, earthquakes and other calamaties, Hasen's engineering career began peacefully in 1931 in Washington's citadel of enginerring, "the old supervising artchitect's office, the gret grandaddy of GSA (General Services Administration)," said Hansen.
"In the old days, we designed most government buildings. I did not a good bit of structural work on the Fort Knox fold depository and the Denver mint . . . guess I did a post office in every state," said Hansen. "But one weak point was you couldn't get out to see the buildings you'd designed."
He transferred to the National Capital Housing Authority in 1939 and can still see today the "thousands and thousands" of apartments he helped design to house war workers here. By 1944 he had a Navy commission and was sent to the South Pacific with a military government unit, wherehis engineering skills were called upon to design army camps and things like large latrines for troops and civilians on a devastated Okinawa.
Hansen set up his own practice in Silver Spring after a brief fling with a large architectural firm here. By itself,the list of local churches whose structures he has designed would fill a church registry - among them St. John's, St. Jude's. St! Camilla's , St. Stephens's, St. Catherine's and several St. Mary's. He has similarly been a consultant or engineer on dozens of Washington embassy buildings, schools and office building damage, such as that caused by Merto construction.
He has done the structural designs for the restoration of Alexandria's Lyceum and historic buildings like Decatur House and City Tavern in Georgetown and has still found time between this and engineering rescue missions abroad to be active in engineering societies and even time to be a judge at local high school science fairs.
John Bachner, executive director of the Consulting Engineer Council od Metropolitan Washington, said "Carl's one of the most active and interested of our members, He's never turmned down an assignment no matter how busy he is. He's a technically competent, highly concerned man of great personal ethics, a model of th profesion." Bachner said.
Hansen's not always been the bearer of glad tidings. Not lond after RFK Stadium was built, its three miles of concrete walkways began crumbling and Hansen was called in to diagnose the problem (aluminium electrical conduits "corroding because of galvanic action between the aluminium and steel rods in the concrete .
Hansen was a consultant to the American Institute of Architects in the 1960s when it pleaded with Congress to perserve and restore the histroic west front of the U.S. Capital rather than build a new west wing, a proposal that Congress is still considering.
Hansen surveyed the west wall and found it structrally sound despite warnings of them Architect of the CapitolJ. George Steward that it might collapse at any moment if a helicopter flew nearby. Stewart, who successfully pushed for the Capitol's new weat during the 1950s, wanted a new wing to create more office space for Congress.
"A New York engineering firm also told them later that it could be restored," said Hansen, "and that bomb that went off (near the Rotunda in 1971) didn't budge the wall an inch. But Steward wanted an extension too. It's the building left should be perserved for posterity. But all everbody seems to be concerned about is a little extra office space."
It's something Hansen, with perhaps a few Seabees, would like to have a crakat.