Las Vegas Rescuer: High-Risk Rescue 'Fun'

As Ray Spigner dangled over the side of the Vdara Hotel, he says he had no worries because he trusted in his equipment, team and training.


Paramedic Ray Spigner dangled over the side of the Vdara Hotel some 550 feet in the air early Wednesday afternoon.

News helicopters circled around him and the 100-degree summer heat emanated from the windows. His life rested in the hands of an 800-foot rope and his fellow firefighters on the Las Vegas Fire and Rescue Technical Rescue Team working the equipment to lower him. Below him, four window washers waited, stranded outside the 35th floor in a window washer's basket. Their fate and safety rested in his hands.

The first of three members that would help lower the stranded to safety, Spigner was tasked with assessing their health and safety before taking the first man to safety. He couldn't have had more fun.

"It's fun. It's what we train for," Spigner said. "We train every day for stuff like this, so there's no worries. You trust your equipment, people and training."

The Technical Rescue Team specializes in rescuing people in high-risk emergencies like flash floods, car crashes and structural collapses, among others. On Wednesday, the 12 firefighters on shift were charged with a rare and exciting task -- lowering four stranded window washers on the side of Vdara to safety.

The team received a call for help from the Clark County Fire Department at 11:53 a.m. When they arrived on scene, they devised their plan. They decided to lower the stranded washers onto a third-floor rooftop because it was closer than the hotel's roof. Fire Captain John Hurley said it was a standard rope rescue.

Hurley said they may not receive many calls like this, but they are trained for it. Two months a year, they practice rescues off the side of a training building and other local hotels and casinos.

"These are low-volume, high-risk calls," Hurley said. "They don't come in often; that's why we train frequently for them."

Spigner went first. When he reached the men, he said they were calm, a little thirsty, but not in any immediate danger. After delivering some water, he attached a harness to the first person and together they were lowered down. Paramedic Scott Freel followed next. He said the window washers' calmness made the rescue easier.

"That's what made it less stressful," Freel said. "These guys were all in good health, they weren't scared, used to heights. My guy literally jumped off the thing on the way down."

Freel said the height, heat and people gawking at the rescuers with their cellphones through the hotel windows barely registered on his radar. He was too focused on his task at hand, and searching for something to grab onto in case things go crazy, to notice.

After nearly three hours, paramedic Andrew Osborn was tasked with taking the last man. That's when they ran into their first and only snag -- the man had to use the bathroom.

"I asked him if he needed water," Osborn said. "He said no, he needed the bathroom."

Still, Osborn and the rescue squad could not have hoped for a better day.

"Excellent day on the job," Osborn said. "It's the day you live for."

Copyright 2012 - Las Vegas Sun