Mid-Air Rescue Halts Fatal Plunge
Photos by Don S. Muhleman, Wheeling, W. Va., News-Register
Wheeling, W. Va., Fire Department
When the victim of a construction equipment accident lost his grip on the face of a building and began a 50-foot plunge to the street, a Wheeling, W. Va., fire fighter on an aerial ladder grabbed him around the waist in mid-air and pulled him onto the ladder.
The rescued man, Ernest Brubach, had been working in a boatswain’s chair suspended from the tip of a six-section, cable-operated, telescoping boom with a basket at the end. Suddenly, the boom retracted. Brubach grasped an aluminum bracket installed to support the new facing that was being put on the building. A man working in the basket at top of the five-story building, John Markiewiez, rode the basket down until the boom sections bottomed. The violent stop threw him out of the basket, and he landed on the bed of the truck supporting the boom. His injuries included two broken legs, a broken arm, a broken back and brain damage.
As Brubach clung to the side of the building, a woman phoned fire headquarters at 11:08 a.m. last September 3 for an ambulance and an aerial ladder truck. The dispatcher sent the ambulance, manned by Edwin Raper and Ernst Brambach, the driver, and Aerial Truck No. 1, a 100-foot ladder. Because of the unusual nature of the incident, Assistant Chief George Ellis also responded.
Immediately after the ambulance reached the scene, traffic became jammed, and Ellis saw the ladder truck stopped by a double lane of vehicles. He sent Raper up Main Street to clear a path for the ladder. When Raper returned, Ellis ordered him to put on a ladder belt and go up the ladder, which was then being positioned.
As the ladder was being swung into position under Bruback, Raper climbed to the top of the ladder. Before the ladder could be put in the desired position, Brubach lost his grip and began to plummet to the ground.
Raper, who had hooked his belt to the top rung of the ladder, lunged with both arms and grabbed the falling man around his waist. Brubach had plunged about 10 feet when the fire fighter made the mid-air catch. The workman weighed 175 pounds, and the boatswain’s chair and cable accounted for 25 pounds, making a total weight of 200 pounds that Raper had to stop in the midst of a free fall.
Brubach was unable to help himself as Raper pulled him against the top rung. Ladderman Armand Scenna, the backup man on the ladder, released the cable and boatswain’s chair from the rescued man. Relieved of this weight, Raper then pulled Brubach over the top rung and got him safely on the ladder. With Scenna’s help, Raper then brought Brubach down the ladder. The mishap victim, who was so weak that he couldn’t sit up, was then taken in the ambulance to a hospital. He was released from the hospital the next day, but on the following day he was readmitted for further treatment for shock.
While the rescue aloft was being made, Ellis had a life net in position on the sidewalk as a final precaution. It was manned by members of the fire prevention bureau and some bystanders.
When asked about his reaction to the rescue, Raper replied that it was a team effort. And that it was. The rescue was the result of the teamwork of the ladder crew, the ladder operator and the direction by Ellis, the duty chief.
An investigation of the accident disclosed that the cable drum for the boom was supported in a frame by a 1 1/2-inch axle. This axle snapped in the housing, investigators reported, and allowed the boom to retract.