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At 9:30 on a cold and windy morning in February 1996, the Farmingdale, NY, Fire Department received a call reporting that a worker was injured at the Farmingdale Water Tower.
What the responders didn't know until they arrived at the scene was that the victim was trapped inside the tower, which stands 150 feet high, is 80 feet in diameter and is topped by a ball tank that is 40 feet deep. This call would prove to be not only a high-angle rope rescue but also a confined space incident.
Photo by Harry Loud
The injured worker had fallen inside the tower, which stands 150 feet high, is 80 feet in diameter and is topped by a 40-foot-deep ball tank. Rescuers had to climb by scuttle ladder to the catwalk circling the ball.
Believing it was responding to a routine aided case, the volunteer department dispatched its Ambulance 929. Upon arrival, the crew was met by Farmingdale Captain Scott Lorenzen, who had been doing electrical work nearby. The ambulance crew then learned that the victim, who was working for a painting contractor, had been preparing the water tank for painting. The man was working inside the top of the drained water tank when he fell 40 feet and landed on the bottom floor inside the tank.
Firefighter/Paramedic Will Merrins, in charge at the time, was told by Lorenzen and other workers that the victim was trapped and injured up inside the 150-foot tower. Merrins, realizing this would take more manpower and equipment than the crew had available, transmitted a second alarm. He also made a special call for the nearby Bethpage Fire Department's Tactical Rescue Team (TRT).
Merrins and another firefighter started their ascent up the narrow, 113-foot scuttle ladder attached to one leg of the tower (this was the only means of access for rescue crews). After climbing down a workman's ladder inside the tank, Merrins reached the victim and began medical treatment of the man's injuries, which appeared to be a broken left arm, leg and ankle. Farmingdale Assistant Chief Don Tortoso soon arrived at the scene and was informed via radio by Merrins of the situation. Tortoso immediately established a command post and was then met by Bethpage Fire Department Assistant Chief Peter Bianco, a member of the TRT. Bianco requested that the Syosset Fire Department's rope team be called in for backup.
At 9:52 A.M., the Bethpage TRT arrived under the direction of team leader Gregory Patsos. The TRT response consists of units 9011, the team's specialized equipment truck; 9033, a heavy rescue truck; and 903, a 75-foot tower ladder.
The victim's location and particulars of his injuries were discussed while the rescuers established methods for a safe and effective rescue. Meanwhile, TRT members were assembling and doing safety checks on equipment that would be needed to begin the rescue effort. It was determined that Bianco would ascend the scuttle ladder with the first team to establish a topside command, Patsos would assume the position of rescue operations officer and Tortoso would be the incident commander.