Saving Lives

 TOWER CRANE RESCUE 01Tower crane rescues are a race against the clock.   

By Brent Wise

A tower crane operator has an enviable job: a good salary, a breathtaking view and a climate-controlled working space. But, isolation in a cab, hundreds of feet in the air, is also fraught with danger: If an operator loses consciousness or needs medical assistance, someone needs to get him or her down to the ground, fast.

Tower crane rescues are a race against the clock. Precious minutes are often lost while people on the ground try and fail to repeatedly contact an incapacitated crane operator. Before anyone realizes that something is very wrong up in the cab, the “golden hour” for saving a life after a traumatic event is already ticking away. 

If a crane operator goes radio silent, on-scene personnel need to call 911, but they also need to jump into action immediately. After 31 years as a firefighter, including 25 years as part of the Dallas Technical Rescue Team specializing in high-angle and high-level rescue, I’m confident that I have the knowledge and equipment to quickly access, evaluate and evacuate a medical emergency inside a tower crane cab. But construction teams don’t have to wait for a crew like mine to arrive on the scene. They can and should know how to save a crane operator’s life, too. 

When Every Second Counts

The best time to think about how to rescue someone is long before an emergency actually happens. It’s extremely important that multiple people on a job site have the training and equipment to perform a tower crane rescue – or any type of high-level rescue, for that matter. 

Even major cities typically have just one technical rescue team that is capable of handling high-level emergencies, and it may take that team much longer to get there than the first-arriving emergency response units that rarely have the tools or training for the job. Meanwhile, someone needs to get up high immediately, find out what’s wrong and act to get the victim back down safely.

Every job site should have workers who are part of a trained emergency response team (ERT). With a simple set of equipment and an established rescue plan that is designed for the specific crane equipment used on the job site, the ERT can perform a simple extraction and lowering operation to get an incapacitated operator to medical help faster. 

In any job site emergency, especially when it’s a high-level event such as an incident on a tower crane, acting fast can save lives. If you’ve never volunteered for your company’s ERT, you should know that saving lives isn’t as hard as you think:

1. Have an emergency response plan that’s tailored to your job site’s equipment, and stick to it.

2. Quickly assess the situation and call 911.

3. Keep a high-level rescue kit ready to grab and go at all times.

4. Get a trained ERT member up to the victim as quickly as possible.

5. Assess all available routes into and out of the cab.

6. Stabilize the victim if conditions allow, or move to evacuate the victim immediately in the event of a fire or other hazardous situation.

7. Use the equipment-specific rescue kit to “package” the victim, transfer the person’s weight to the lowering system, and evacuate him or her from the cab.

8. Use the rescue gear to lower the victim to the ground, where emergency medical responders can take over.

My company trains ERTs in tower crane rescue, as well as many other types of job site emergencies. One of the first questions we get is whether trainees will have to learn to tie 15 different knots that will have to be trusted to hold a person’s weight. The answer is no. The rescue equipment is pre-assembled, and you just need to learn how to use it and where to anchor it to transfer a casualty’s weight and get him or her down from the cab. 

High-level rescue training also covers pre-emergency planning, choosing the right equipment, how to assess and “package” a victim, how to find a safe path down, the importance of communications, and how to take care of your rescue gear so it’s always ready when you need it.

That may sound like a lot to learn, but high-level rescue does not have to be complicated – especially when operating from a known location using pre-established anchor points and paths of egress. It’s about having a plan, sticking to it, acting quickly, having the right gear at the right time, and focusing on transferring the victim’s weight to the rescue system so that you can lower him or her down. That’s it. 

Practice Saves Lives

You’re already a professional at your job, and you won’t be expected to turn into a professional technical rescue expert, too. But what you can do is arm yourself with knowledge and hands-on training in realistic emergency scenarios, and practice those skills at least once a quarter with a realistic “rescue” on an actual job site. Refresh your rescue knowledge frequently, and if you’re ever faced with a real emergency, you’ll switch into automatic response mode and will know exactly what to do to safely assist in a time-sensitive emergency like a tower crane rescue.

Tower crane operators should also get regular training in self-rescue, so they can get to safety quickly if there’s a life-threatening incident in the air. For example, if there’s a fire in the cab, a crane operator needs to have a heat-resistive self-rescue kit readily at hand, and know what to do if smoke is filling the cab or access to an evacuation route is blocked. A rescue kit doesn’t do anyone any good if it’s left forgotten in a corner or locked in a cabinet. It needs to be immediately accessible, or better yet, on the operator’s person at all times, so all he or she has to worry about is getting a line anchored and getting down. 

There’s no more helpless feeling than standing on the ground, looking up at an emergency unfolding silently way above your head. So, if you’ve been thinking about volunteering for your company’s ERT, I encourage you to jump in and get the training. If your company doesn’t yet have an ERT, talk to your company’s leaders about starting one. You might save a buddy’s life, or you could actually be the one who thanks your colleagues for saving yours someday. 

Brent Wise is a career firefighter who has spent 31 years with the Dallas Fire Department and currently serves as captain of the Dallas Technical Rescue Team. He is the co-founder of Tech Safety Lines Inc. (TSL), a fall protection, fall arrest and rescue training company based in Dallas.

 

 

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