( 1) Photos by author.
Cell Tower Rescue:
First-In Operations and
the Incident Action Plan
BY NATHAN PAULSBERG
ACROSS THE COUNTRY, AS TOWER type rescues become more common, local rescuers need
be aware of the presence of such rescue
sites in their response areas, preplan
for different rescue scenarios, and train
their specialized rescue personnel to the
appropriate level to facilitate safe rescues.
Tower rescues have become so numerous
that when the National Fire Protection
Association issued the 2014 edition of
NFPA 1670, Standard on Operations and
Training for Technical Search and Rescue
Incidents, it included tower rescue awareness, operations, and technician level
requirements. But for everyone who is
involved in high-angle rescue nationwide,
how many departments and rescue teams
are truly trained and equipped to carry
out these demanding types of rescues?
We must first define what a tower is.
NFPA 1670 states, “The requirements of
this chapter shall apply to organizations
that provide varying degrees of response
to emergencies involving guyed, self-supporting, monopoles and non-standard
tower structures.” Guyed, self-supporting,
and monopole refer to different cell tower
types (photos 1-3, respectively). Nonstandard tower structures include transmission towers, water towers, cranes, smoke
stacks, and possibly bridges. Although we
will specifically discuss first-in operations
for a cell tower incident, most of this information may be relevant for these nonstandard tower structures, too. Note that we
are not discussing rescues from energized
power transmission towers or broadcast
towers that have additional hazards.
Tower rescues often involve a “bot-
tom-up” rescue. Traditional fire service
classes and curriculum focus on “top-
down” rescues, such as a window washer
rescue, a slope evacuation, removal of a
person on the side of a cliff, and rescuing
someone trapped in a high-rise. In these
situations, the rescue crew comes into the
scene from above the victim and either
rappels down or lowers the rescuer down
to the subject from an elevated area. This
rigging area is usually fairly large, many
personnel are able to access it, and anchors
are available or can be moved as needed.
A “bottom-up” tower rescue is one
in which you arrive on scene and the
victim is above you. Unless you have the
luxury of a helicopter with an external
hoist at your disposal, you must access
the victim from below on the structure.
Then you will need to climb up past the
subject, set up high-point anchors with
limited equipment, and facilitate a usual-
ly much more complex rescue scenario
with only one or two fit and well-trained
rescue personnel doing all the work and
sharing all the responsibility.
The first order of business for any crew
on arrival is to gather information and to
control the area.
Compliant worker. If the subject is
a properly trained and equipped tower
climber, find his coworkers and figure
out exactly why a rescue is needed.
At-height workers on these types of
sites are not permitted to work alone
and should be working in teams of two
or more at all times. These workers
may also be trained in rescue, and you
should use their knowledge and skills
as much as possible.
What is the problem? Is it a medical issue, or did the worker fall on his
fall protection equipment and is now
hanging in free space? If the victim is
hanging in his harness and is unconscious, this is a time-sensitive problem;
and you must set your rescue plan into
action immediately because of the risk
of suspension trauma.
Other common reasons for rescue
include heat exhaustion in the summer,
cold issues in the winter, heart problems,
injury caused by falling objects, and falling onto fall protection equipment and
being unable to self-rescue. There could
be any number of other health or access
problems with your victim, so it is critical
that you find out exactly what the issue
is so your rescue team can begin to build
its incident action plan (IAP).
Noncompliant climber. Most noncompliant climbers are alone, which will
make it difficult or impossible to get any
information on the ground. Often with a
noncompliant climber, the first question
to ask is, “Is he dead or alive?”
If the person is deceased, which is a
real probability on transmission towers,