On November 1, 1994, Tower Ladder 71 of the City of Yonkers (NY) Fire Department responded to a report of an injured worker trapped in the bucket of a malfunctioning boom truck. The worker was repairing overhead tollbooth signs on a highway when another vehicle struck his truck from behind. At the scene, Captain Edward Doty and the firefighters of Ladder 71 found the accident had severed the truck`s hydraulic line, leaving the worker suspended in the bucket, 25 feet in the air. The hydraulic fluid spill made the road surface slippery, causing minor automobile accidents across both lanes of the highway. Firefighters immediately applied absorbent to the spill to control the traffic.

Further investigation revealed that the worker was suffering from possible neck and back injuries and had difficulty moving his legs. Essentially, the situation called for a high-angle rescue.

Squad 1, the department`s hazardous materials and rescue operations unit, was called to the scene to provide additional labor and rope-rescue expertise. Housed in the same fire station, Ladder 71 and Squad 1 often train together in rope rescue procedures. Using the tower ladder`s telescoping capabilities, Doty and Ladder 71`s crew positioned the apparatus parallel to the disabled bucket. Within the confines of the space available, Doty and Firefighter Norman Downes could immobilize the worker`s spine by fitting him with a cervical collar, a Kendrick Extrication Device, and a harness so he could be removed.

Concurrently, Firefighters Mark Iannucci and Richard Orsini devised a “sling system” that consisted of a series of webbing, ropes, and pulleys, which they attached to Ladder 71`s bucket to extricate the victim from the confining bucket. The ladder company and squad together installed a safety backup system using the toolbooth overhead sign as an anchor. Lieutenant William McKenna, along with Firefighter Philip Armacida, wearing a harness, manned the ropes and pulleys attached to both the tollbooth sign and the victim. When all systems were in place, the worker was lifted from his position via the tower ladder and lowered to a stretcher on the road surface. The injured man was prepared for transport by ambulance to a local hospital.

The members of Squad 1 and Ladder 71 later received Class A departmental recognition for the coordination and teamwork they demonstrated in bringing this unusual incident to a successful conclusion.


Critique situations. The high-angle rescue performed by the City of Yonkers Fire Department may not have been as successful if incident critique were not a regular practice after unusual calls for assistance. When conducted in a nonjudgmental, open forum, incident critique provides a creative environment for new approaches to surface. Building on a previous incident critique of a confined-space rescue, the idea to introduce mountain-climbing techniques to Squad 1`s basic rope rescue procedures evolved. Captains Andrew Figura, an avid mountaineer, and William Fitzpatrick, squad commander, recognized that mountain-climbing equipment has practical application to rescue procedures. This challenging sport`s experiential use of ropes and pulleys has refined the art of reaching the inaccessible by rope, while contributing new innovative approaches to the field of safety procedures. As a result of this incident critique meeting, Figura began to train Squad 1 in mountain-climbing techniques. This training provided the firefighters with the skill to devise the sling and backup anchor systems used in this incident.

Multiunit drills. The critique of the high-angle rescue incident highlighted the benefit achieved from realistic, multiunit drills. Housed together at Station 1, the squad and ladder company often train in rope-rescue procedures. They share ideas at incident critique meetings, then use the Station 1 building to practice the suggested new approaches. Residents can often see the fire officers and firefighters of Station 1 performing a training exercise: rappelling down the side of the fire station, rescuing a life-size dummy from a confined space, and lowering the dummy in a gurney from the side of the building. Both Doty and Figura concur that multiunit drills provided the City of Yonkers firefighters with an “edge” in developing a timely, situation-sensitive response that reduced the danger for the injured worker and the firefighters on the scene of this high-angle rescue.

(Photos by Mark Vergari, staff photographer, Herald Statesman, Yonkers, New York.)

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