The Science of Tower Rescue and the Art of Multiple Agency Cooperation

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...


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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Dennis believes that RF exposure plays a bigger role in tower accidents than most people realize. He cited a case that took place in Frankfurt, IN in March 2006. A self-employed tower worker, suffering from the sudden onset of flu-like symptoms (likely caused by RF exposure), fell off the tower onto his fall arrest lanyard and was too weak to self-rescue. The rescue took three departments over 17 hours. Though he survived, Dennis estimated that the worker was dosed with 600% of the Maximum Permissible Exposure (MPE) of RF the entire 17 hours that the rescue was taking place from a height of 170 feet.

ROCKY MOUNTAIN HIGH

A tower rescue is a very real possibility for Jefferson County (population 538,323). Jeffco, as it is often called, is a critical communications gateway on the eastern side of the Rockies that links the east and west over the continental divide. Though it is a county of roughly 774 square miles, nearly 655 of those square miles are unincorporated. In addition, it borders more counties (10) than any other county in the state. Its rugged and remote foothills (some approaching 10,000 feet above sea level) are spiked with dozens of towers perched atop them, and more are going up all the time.

And to further complicate the situation, it is also very likely that a tower rescue might not just be for someone who had a really bad day at work. These same foothills, less than 30 minutes from Denver, are chock full of Para gliders, hang gliders, BASE jumpers and a whole assortment of adrenaline junkies looking for something to either climb up or jump off. Eco-terrorists like the Earth Liberation Front (ELF), who have been sabotaging towers in the Pacific Northwest and Canada, have a presence in Colorado. Desperate copper thieves are also scaling towers in search of cable to cut and resell.

So given the eclectic nature of both the response area and the responders (Jeffco has more than 30 emergency response agencies), many local rescuers believe a tower rescue call requiring multiple agencies in Jefferson County is not a question of if, but when.

CAN'T WE ALL JUST GET ALONG?

To address this growing concern, several agencies decided to take a proactive approach to the possibility of a rescue at Lake Cedar, a local "tower farm." Located on the side of nearby Lookout Mountain, the Lake Cedar site had more than half a dozen towers clustered together. The tallest, a new digital TV antenna, is more than 600 feet tall, and has steel guy wires spiderwebbing hundreds of feet out from the red-and-white striped behemoth.

Attended by both paid and volunteer rescuers, it was the first meeting of its kind for JeffCo. Host Foothills Fire Protection District, West Metro Fire, Golden Fire, Genesee Fire, Highland Rescue Team Ambulance and the local CBS KCNC-TV affiliate tower site technicians all met for both a classroom chalk-talk and field rescue demonstration by members of West Metro. An accredited Mountain Rescue Association team (the Alpine Rescue Team of Evergreen, CO) was even thrown into the mix, as a winter tower rescue in Colorado would likely entail the use of snowmobiles or snowcats for access, and by chance the all-volunteer team had members with tower rescue training experience in its ranks. But the 800-pound gorilla in the room that no one wanted to discuss was not the dilemma of coping with dwindling training budgets, not the expense of gearing up with tower rescue specific gear and not even the varying opinions on tower rescue techniques. It was the prospect of coordinating several very different organizations' response to a tower rescue call that remained the most complex and bewildering — yet least openly discussed — subject of the day.

"If you don't have the resources to do the rescue, you should at least have a game plan on who to call," concluded Foothills Fire Protection District Business Manager and Volunteer Firefighter Jeanette Kehoe after the meeting. Though Foothills responds to 400–500 calls a year, most of those are car accidents and vehicle extrications, according to Kehoe. A six-year veteran, she said that even though the Foothills FPD has one site (Lake Cedar) with several tall telecommunications and DTV antennas, they do not have the training or resources to safely conduct a tower rescue alone. She added that though the site falls squarely in their jurisdiction, they opted instead to adopt a multiple agency, team-based approach to a possible rescue at the site.