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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Kehoe explained that they had already met with the tower owners and site technicians to establish first-on-scene protocols at the Lake Cedar site. Foothills would work to get a lockout/tagout situation initiated, assess the scene, get the appropriate vehicles in place for anchors, and then defer the actual rescue to West Metro Fire, a nearby urban fire department with more than 300 paid firefighters and paramedics manning 15 stations.

"I give a lot of credit to Foothills for stepping up and initiating this," said West Metro Captain Jeremy Metz. "We all need to work together. The goal here is not to get another plaque on your wall, or get your photo in the newspaper. The goal is to rescue someone in need, and get all your rescuers home safely—whether it takes four agencies on a call or 10."

HISTORY LESSON

History is doomed to be repeated by those who don't learn from it. After the meeting, some veteran rescuers expressed their frank opinions about past attempts at inter-agency cooperation (or the lack thereof) on mutual aid calls.

"First of all, the Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) must agree upon who responds to an incident," said Alpine Rescue Team Member Herb Dorn. "It can be a monumental battle to overcome the jurisdictional politics of who responds to what territory regardless of what skills an agency possesses," he said. Dorn is intimately familiar with both sides of the house—paid and volunteer. He is a Qualified Rescue Rank member of Alpine Rescue and a Lieutenant Paramedic with the Longmont, CO Fire Department with more than a decade of experience.

Both Metz and Calocci of West Metro admitted it is often an uphill battle. "There is so much pride involved. Sometimes when you come into another department's area, you are greeted with suspicion, not open arms," said Calocci.

Metz, a 12-year veteran and Technical Rescue Team Manager concurred. "Most of us are pretty aggressive alpha types."

Dorn believes that some of the standard tactics employed in other rescue situations simply don't work with a tower rescue. "It's a specialized arena, and all responding agencies would be better served if only a small number of people trained for it. You can't effectively train a lot people in something this specialized and expect them to retain it," he said. "You need a core group that train together if you want to excel at this."

"Tower rescue is a high-risk, low frequency event," Dorn said, comparing tower rescue training to confined space rescue training.

Consultant Dennis agreed that the relative rarity of tower rescues makes them difficult to justify the time and expense needed to equip and train rescue teams. "It's as expensive as hell, and there's a very real chance that they will never use it," he said. "And besides, you can't take the Reader's Digest version of tower rescue and expect to retain it for a year. Our guys work on towers every day, and even they have a hard time with that. You can't just look to the NFPA to address the appropriate tower rescue gear. You have to look to ANSI Z359-2007 to find a standard that addresses rescue gear for the workplace."

One point that all who attended the tower rescue meeting agreed upon was the importance of shared trainings.

"If you want to win someone's trust, train with them," Calocci concluded.

And just as most successful tower rescues are carried out from the top-down, so it goes for establishing a culture of mutual respect and cooperation on multiple agency callouts for tower rescue, according to Alpine Rescue Team member Mike Everist.

"Sometimes we've had the wrong guy at the top," he said of past mutual aid calls. "We've walked on some toes, and when you do that, naturally people will push back. The people at the top of each organization owe it to their own agencies to cut through their own BS. I include our own agency in that statement."

He added that newer members on any rescue team or fire department often form their initial opinions of their neighboring agencies based on what they are told by senior members, and this can add years of strained relations from events that transpired long ago.

Damon Brown, of the Highlands Rescue Team (the agency that would provide the ALS ambulance service in the event of a tower rescue at the Lake Cedar site), was optimistic about the future of mutual aid tower rescue calls in Jeffco, and had similar thoughts on the necessity for mutual respect on mutual aid. "We should always focus our priorities on what is right for both the community and the patient."