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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NEVER SAY NEVER

To the best of anyone's recollection, there has never been a tower rescue in Jeffco. But as if to confirm the value of shared tower rescue trainings, less than a week after the first tower rescue meeting, Foothills Fire was notified by a passing motorist that a hang glider had become entangled in the guy wires of the 600-foot-tall KCNC-TV antenna at the Lake Cedar site.

West Metro was promptly notified by the Jefferson County Sheriff's Department Dispatcher of the call, but was stood down when a member of Foothills Fire concluded that the motorist had been mistaken. The hang glider was actually several hundred feet away from the tower, "treading" a thermal that held him aloft and made it appear from a distance as if he was caught midair.

"It was a false alarm," said Foothills Fire member Kehoe, "but what a great drill!"

With tower rescue, most of the unknowns can be engineered out of the equation with basic pre-planning. There are not many types of calls in which you can be guaranteed of the incident happening where you have trained for it. Tower rescue is one of those types of calls.

Visit the site with the rescuers who would respond to the call. Coordinate the visit with the tower owner. Get gate codes or keys, so that the bolt cutters can stay on the rig. If the tower owner is in compliance with ANSI Z359 2007 requirements for rescue pre-planning, they should probably have your agency listed on their rescue plan anyway. If the tower is not in your primary response area, be sure to include the agencies that will be first on scene in your rescue pre-plan process. This is critical, as the decisions made in the first 15 minutes on scene usually dictate the tone for the rest of the call.

Make certain that the vehicles needed onsite can make the drive to the base of the tower year round.

The tower owner or site technician should have a list of all the antennas on the tower and the owners contact information for each antenna. Once this list is obtained, it should be kept on the rig that would be responding to that location, and updated yearly. This is a critical piece of information when it comes to lock-out/tag-out procedures during a rescue.

Think of tower rescue as an aerial hazmat situation. Tower workers use very specialized tools for climbing towers, and it follows that the tools to rescue them should be specialized for tower rescue as well. Twin lanyards, autolocking descent devices rated for a two-person load, cable grabs and RF monitors are a must.

Due to the extreme height of some towers, the rope needed to affect a rescue may be hundreds of feet longer than your longest rope. Plan or purchase accordingly.

When choosing a technical system to conduct the rescue, simplify, simplify, simplify and practice, practice, practice. A system that takes a dozen rescuers more than an hour to set up is probably too complicated. Remember that the longer a subject is hanging suspended, the more likely it is they could suffer the fatal effects of Suspension Intolerance. To save precious minutes, use a prepackaged rescue solution that is used only for tower rescue.

Don't swarm up the tower like an army of rescuing ants. Two or three highly trained and fit rescuers can accomplish more in half an hour than a dozen could in five hours.

If in doubt about the objective dangers associated with tower rescue (like microwave and RF exposure, high voltage from inductive current near AM Radio towers), consult with the same companies that the telecommunications companies use for safety training.

If resources allow, set up a staging area for the press in a safe area, and allow law enforcement to restrict access to the base of the tower. The guy with the gun and badge trumps the guy with the camera and press pass every time.

Don't assume that when the victim reaches the ground that they are out of danger. Treat them for Suspension Intolerance by making certain that they are not laid down prone and strapped to a backboard. If at all possible, they should remain seated, with their legs slightly bent until blood work can be done to determine if the oxygen-starved blood pooling in the legs has become toxic.