In the very best of scenarios, tower rescue for the professional can be a daunting task. But the obvious dangers of extreme height, high voltage, microwave radiation, radio-frequency exposure and gusting winds pale in comparison to what many responders deem the hardest aspect of most tower...
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In the very best of scenarios, tower rescue for the professional can be a daunting task. But the obvious dangers of extreme height, high voltage, microwave radiation, radio-frequency exposure and gusting winds pale in comparison to what many responders deem the hardest aspect of most tower rescues: interagency cooperation on what is often a mutual aid call.
"It's a difficult pill to swallow when someone else shows up to your response area for a tower rescue," said West Metro Fire District Firefighter Sean Calocci. One of the coordinators for a recent training hosted by the Foothills Fire Protection District for potential tower rescue responders in Jefferson County, CO, Calocci admitted that the very nature of tower rescue, coupled with the remote locations of the towers, begs for a new way to approach mutual aid response. Six different agencies attended the meeting/training, which was held in September.
"Getting the right people involved in the pre-planning aspect of tower rescue can save someone's life," he adds.
CAN YOU HEAR ME NOW?
With the ever-increasing demand for cell coverage (there are currently 190,000 cell sites in the U.S. and that number is expected to nearly double in the next five years, according to www.WirelessEstimator.com), the telecom industry is installing cell towers in more and more remote areas. This demand for expanded coverage is putting more towers into rural areas and even mountaintop sites in the backcountry, in a rush to fill in all those dreaded "dead spots."
With the encroachment of more towers away from densely populated areas, it follows that there is an increasing likelihood that both career and non-paid rescuers might be called upon to assist in what was once considered a strictly urban/industrial rescue scenario: a fallen tower worker hanging suspended from a lanyard high above the ground.
An extreme example of this situation occurred in rural Nebraska in 2002. A tower worker was injured at the 1,200-foot level of a tower while installing cable. By the time his lifeless body reached the ground, nearly 12 hours had elapsed since the initial 911 call was made and now even the National Guard had become part of the rescue effort. Rescuers were hampered by the fact that the tower had no pre-installed safety climb system, and they had to use multiple anchors on the tower for the lowering since they only had a 400-foot rope to work with.
Smaller, less-equipped departments are being forced to rely on bigger, better-funded metro rescue teams to help them meet the challenge that rural tower rescue presents. Agencies in the past that would never have had to work side by side are now relying on each other and becoming intimately familiar with each other's strengths and weaknesses in regards to tower rescue.
In the past, most calls to tower accidents were recoveries, because tower workers had more of a cowboy attitude and often free-climbed to get the job done quickly. A fall meant almost certain death. According to the annual statistics compiled by www.wirelessestimator.com, telecom tower climbing is "America's most lethal job," beating out loggers, coal miners and offshore fisherman in per capita deaths per 100,000 workers (in comparison with the Bureau of Labor Statistics).
Eighteen tower workers were killed on the job in 2008, and several tower workers perished in work-related accidents in 2009. But Ed Dennis, Senior Safety Consultant for Com-Tech Services, said that the actual number of fatalities could be four times that number if the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) figured in self-employed contractor and ham-radio tower fatalities. In an effort to buck this trend, more companies (and OSHA) are stressing 100% tie offs for workers in the telecom industry. Falls these days frequently result in the worker hanging suspended, unable to self-rescue. Even a worker who falls without sustaining any injuries at all can perish from the effects of Suspension Intolerance (sometimes as quickly as within five minutes) if left hanging from their dorsal attachment point on their full-body harness.