By Michael J. Regnier
As with many areas in the country, Sarasota County, Florida, has seen an uptick in high-rise construction projects. With these projects comes an ever-increasing possibility of high-angle rescue incidents.
The Sarasota County (FL) Fire Department (SCFD) consists of 539 career firefighters, providing fire and emergency medical services (EMS) for the 390,000 residents and visitors to their response area. The SCFD also has an ISO Public Protection Class 2 rating.
The SCFD’s Special Operations Team (SOT) consists of 54 highly-trained members, representing approximately 10 percent of our total fire personnel. The team was acutely aware of these potential incidents and trained for those rare but eventual specialized emergencies.
Although the SOT’s more frequent responses remain hazmat incidents, heavy rescues with entrapments, and the normal fire and EMS responses, the past high-angle rescues have been few and far between. This changed during the months of June and July 2017, when the SOT was called out twice for construction workers dangling and trapped on the sides of buildings under construction-both from malfunctioning swing stages.
The first incident occurred on June 11th at a high-rise on North Tamiami Trail Road (phots 1-3), the site of an 18-story high-rise where the swing stage malfunctioned between the 14th and 15th floors, stranding two construction workers. Both workers had been using safety harnesses that kept them suspended and uninjured. One worker was pulled to safety by other construction workers prior to the SOT’s arrival, but the second worker remained stuck to the swing stage.
SOT members were able to set up rigging to further secure the worker. They then lowered a rescuer who secured the worker and ascended safely to the roof of the structure. The worker was treated and transported to a local hospital with some non-life threatening injuries.
(1) Photos courtesy of the Sarasota County (FL) Fire Department.
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The second incident happened on July 11th (photos 4-7)—just one month later—and less than a mile from the first incident at another construction site on South Palm Avenue. This time, a single construction worker was stranded on the dangling swing stage between the 11th and 12th floors of a 17-story building. The worker also was harnessed into a safety line, but he was pinned between the swing stage and the façade of the building.
This time, after consulting the construction foreman, a member of the SOT rappelled down to the worker, safely hooked him into his rigging, and then both were lowered to the ground without further incident.
Both of these incidents were successfully mitigated by SCFD personnel and their ability to make the rare incidents look routine through their continuous training and experience.
Are you ready for emergencies out of the ordinary? I urge you to prepare for those unexpected “rare” incidents that will always happen without warning.
Michael J. Regnier is the chief of the Sarasota County (FL) Fire Department.