An ironworker doing construction at Temple University's new medical building in North Philadelphia died yesterday morning after accidentally falling about five stories, authorities said.

Federal investigators immediately opened a probe of Berlin Steel Construction Co. of Connecticut, which has come under scrutiny in the past for accidental falls. The company did not return calls yesterday.

The victim, Drew Mecutchen, 44, of Levittown, was described by a colleague as the father of two teenage sons and a man who was always jovial and polite.

Capt. Richard Davis of the Philadelphia Fire Department said medics were called to the site at 3500 N. Broad St., near Venango Street, shortly after 8 a.m. The victim was taken to the adjacent Temple University Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 8:15.

Investigators have not officially released the cause of the fall, but it's possible a harness broke, authorities said.

"I want to express our sadness at this tragic loss of life on our campus," said Eryn Jelesiewicz, Temple spokeswoman. "Our thoughts are with the victim's family and colleagues."

Jim Glasson, a construction worker who was friends with Mecutchen, said he was shocked to hear about the death.

"He's a great guy," Glasson said. "An outstanding father, always taking his family on trips."

A woman who answered the phone at Ironworkers Local 401 in Northeast Philadelphia but did not want to be identified said she had known Mecutchen for seven years. She called him jovial, polite and an "amazing man - just a decent human being."

Work at the Temple site, where construction cranes stood still against the scaffolding and steel skeletal frame of the medical building to come, was shut down. Jelesiewicz said work would not resume until after the New Year's holiday.

Police initially were told the man fell from the 10th floor to the fourth floor, where he landed on rebar wire.

Davis said he believes the victim fell off scaffolding equal to five stories. Those in the area immediately began yelling for help.

Investigators from the Department of Labor and Occupational Health and Safety Administration were called to the scene.

OSHA investigator John Quinn said it appeared that Mecutchen was wearing a harness as he was welding on an improvised floor structure when he fell. Companies are required by federal law to secure the perimeters of buildings and scaffolding during construction.

Marie Cassady, deputy regional administrator for OSHA's Philadelphia office, said it could take six months before the administration completes its investigation.

Berlin Steel, which is considered a large company and is based in Berlin, Conn., has come under investigation by OSHA numerous times in the last two decades.

In October, an investigation was opened after a worker fell doing work at Temple. The injury was not serious, and Berlin was not cited.

Among fines imposed by OSHA, the company was ordered this month to pay $6,000 for a fall accident at a job site in Connecticut in July.

The company also made headlines last year when a civil jury in Connecticut awarded $32 million to a Berlin Steel employee who was paralyzed during a 1994 fall while he was installing a sheet-metal floor.

A two-ton steel crossbeam fell and struck the employee's head, causing him to fall and suffer a severe spinal cord injury.

Berlin Steel was fined $2,500 by OSHA, but was not named in the civil lawsuit. The jury held liable the international construction company that hired Berlin Steel as a subcontractor.

Contact staff writer Barbara Boyer at 215-854-2641 or bboyer@phillynews.com.